Mobilization for political change
The last decade has been characterized by a number of revolutions spurred by social media or mobile telephony, as authoritarian governments have been overthrown after fast mobilization through these communication channels.
Everyone probably knows about the Arab spring revolutions and the role social media played in them.
Prior to these events, governments were also forced to leave in the Philippines (2001), Spain (2004), and Moldova (2009), due to mobilization that occurred through new media (Shirky:).
The advantages of the media for organizing opposition, building social movements, and mobilizing large groups of people are amongst others the immediacy and fluidity of these media, as well as the difficulties governments have to control them.
According to White and McAllister (2014), the political consequences of social media are graver for authoritarian regimes than in democratic states. Authoritarian governments lose control over agenda-setting, and social media by default foster social movements and opposition formation. Responds by governments have been to shut down the internet at crucial periods, build permanent firewalls, monitor information flows, or manipulate information flows.
The enhanced media participation literacy that publics now have due to the internet and social media networks such as Facebook, has turned many people into active media producers. This participation is an important component of democratic development (see for example Carpentier:2011), for several reasons.
First of all it enlarges the public sphere. The public sphere is the realm where public opinion is created, and every unrestricted conversation between citizens on a public issue contributes to the public sphere. The public sphere does not overlap with the state, but rather mediates between the state and society. The public sphere, according to its theoretical origins, was a mechanism to steer and influence the state, and thereby a basic condition of democracy, which it still remains. Calhoun (2002) emphasizes that the public sphere nowadays should be seen as a form of social solidarity that is uniquely created through discourse, and that is a crucial site for the (trans-)formation of political identities. A vital public sphere is furthermore characterized by its multiplicity (of individuals, publics and opinions) and its inclusiveness. Collective (political) identities can be formed without a vital public sphere, for example through nationalism, but a (cosmopolitan) democracy can not.
Secondly social networks like Facebook create imagined communities. Although the concept of imagined communities was originally connected to the nationstate, some have applied it to analyze web-based communities as well.
Thirdly networked individualism, based on individualism and identification, starts with projects and values of individuals and develops in systems of exchange with other individuals (Castells:2009). According to Hopper (Hopper:2007) networked individualism refers to the engagement of individuals in communities of practice, by using ICT’s to participate in networks. It inspires social movements that build on sharing new values, and in combination with communalism, it inspires social movements of resistance (Castells:2009). It furthermore is expressed through communication systems that are characterized by the use of new technologies, autonomy, horizontal networking, interactivity, and recombination of content under the initiative of the individual and her network.
White, Stephen & McAllister, Ian (2014) Did Russia (Nearly) have a Facebook Revolution in 2011? Social Media’s Challenge to Authoritarianism, POLITICS: VOL 34(1), 72–84
Shirky, Clay (2010), The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political Change, Foreign Affairs 90.1
Carpentier, N. (2011). Media and participation: A site of ideological democratic struggle, IL: Intellect
Calhoun, Craig (2002) Imagining Solidarity: Cosmopolitanism, Constitutional Patriotism, and the Public Sphere’,Public Culture, 14:1
Hopper, Paul (2007) Understanding Cultural Globalization, Polity
Castells, M. (2009) Communication power, Oxford University Press