Can new media activism promote social change?

By Lidia Naskova


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During the last decades, we have seen how new technologies have altered as well as eased the ways of how we can communicate with each other around the world. This blog, for example, is a perfect sign of what new types of media really enables us to do. We are four people, situated in four different places around the world and we are still able to communicate our thoughts to each other regarding new media, activism and development and we may choose who to share this information with.

Not only has the explosion of ICTs introduced new ways for us to communicate, events such as the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall street movement among others, also show that activists and social movements have used new media tools and social media platforms effectively to enforce different social changes in various societies.

In Alternative and activism new media, Lievrouw (2011) discusses exactly that, and she especially highlights five different genres of how artists, activists, and other citizen groups worldwide use new media and ICTs to challenge mainstream media cultures, as well as presenting alternative and marginal opinions, which is indeed very interesting. I definitely agree with her points that we live in a world where “media audiences and consumers are now also media users and participants”(p.1), and how the use of ICTs basically gives everyone with an access to the Internet the possibility to provide critical perspectives on issues that they feel have been neglected in the mainstream media. However, having the possibility to write and reflect regarding issues does not necessarily mean that one has the ability to enforce long-term social changes in societies by doing so, or does it?


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Participatory journalism, also often called citizen journalism is one of the genres that Lievrouw describes in her book, which includes web-based grassroots, and open-source journalism, alternative as well as the creation of independent, or radical news sites and opinion blogs. Even though, participatory journalistic media projects may vary in its form, they usually share the intention to critique established conventional press.

Indymedia websites are also specifically discussed in-depth by Lievrouw; which was a movement initiated by anti-WHO media activists protesting in Seattle in 1999. These activists were driven by the motto to “don’t hate the media – Be the media”, and underlined the democratic right to produce their own news services, meaning that anyone had the opportunity to give their perspective on a news event, and in that case the protests against the World Trade Organization.

Although Wikileaks might be one of the most famous examples of a participatory journalistic project, Maka Angola is an alternative Angolan news website that wishes to do precisely what Lievrouw argues is the essence of (not only)participatory journalism projects; that is “to cover communities, stories and points of views that are neglected by the mainstream press”(Leivrouw, 2011, p. 19-20).

However, it is also necessary to underline that participatory journalism also often is characterized by an increased participation of amateurs, which is not the case of Maka Angola. This website’s main aim is to support anti-corruption and democracy in Angola and is created and funded by the Angolan investigative journalist Rafael Marques de Morais, who, himself was imprisoned in 1999 for calling the Angolan President Dos Santos a dictator in the article The Lipstick of Dictatorship.

Maka Angola does not only report issues relevant to anti-corruption and democracy, but also maintain a Facebook profile, a twitter account as well as a Youtube channel, where news and videos of relevance are continuously added. The news online service’s presence on various new media platforms has opened up new possibilities for citizens to participate in a freer environment, which is seldom given within the mainstream media atmosphere in Angola, according to the Freedom house.

In order to understand the context of a news online service such as Maka Angola or other alternative websites in the country, I believe that it is quite necessary to understand the political and media culture of Angola first. According to the Freedom House; most mainstream media in Angola is either firmly controlled by the government or state-owned and that:

“[s]elf-censorship by journalists at both state-run and private outlets is commonplace in the coercive environment created by the government and security forces”.

In 2010, an improved new state security law was passed in the parliament known as Article 26, which the government often has used to imprison journalists and activists, especially those who hold opposing views to the government ruling party MPLA.

The index Censorship also reports that harassment and abusing journalists and human rights activists that cover sensitive stories, often regarding anti-government protests has been quite common. Even though private radios do exist, they are not allowed to broadcast to other provinces than in the one that they are situated in, and the Freedom house writes that:

“they must instead open a new station in every province in which they wish to broadcast, making private radio penetration outside Luanda extremely limited”.

This additionally points to that it is quite hard to challenge the mainstream media climate in Angola.

So, can new alternative media websites, such as Maka Angola really contribute to a more democratic and anti-corrupt society, which the website sets out to do? Well, I guess at least by giving an alternative perspective of events that have taken place, or even retell news events that are not even covered in mainstream media, it may at least actively engage the audience in a more diverse, varied and new type of storytelling about the country.

By giving an alternative to what the mainstream media broadcasts, it may be seen as a significant drive for social change, or at least opening up the discussion regarding corruption and democracy among citizens in the society that in turn may impose some form of social change. Even though Lievrouw does not specifically discuss Maka Angola, she does underline that participatory media projects may challenge conventional media outputs, which is a good indicator for possible social developments.

Nevertheless, it is equally important to note that news websites such as Maka Angola only can reach those that have access to the Internet, which according to the Freedom House is merely around 17 percent of the Angolan population; a relatively low figure. Therefore, new media activist sites of this kind may most probably only contribute to bring non-covered news to light to very few citizens, and might instead be easier for citizens to access living in countries where the Internet penetration is more widespread.

See the video below of Rafael Marques de Morais speaking regarding the media landscape in Angola after receiving a journalism nomination for the Indexawards 2015 (


Lievrouw, L. (2011). “Alternative and activist New media”. Oxford: Polity Press.

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  1. Many thanks Lidia for such an interesting article and for illustrating your review of Lievrouw’s book with your interesting example from Angola.

    I found Alternative and Activist New Media very illuminating, especially the way she breaks down contemporary activism project into five genres – culture jamming, alternative computing, participatory journalism, mediated mobilization, and commons knowledge. Also useful to mention I think is the theoretical model of “new media and mediation” that she presents in the final chapter. She says that “by focusing on mediation, rather than “the media” themselves, we may open the way for a new phase of critical and empirical inquiry in the study of communication”. I think this is a really important point given the inseparable or even intrinsic role of media activism in modern social change in our highly mediatised world. For instance, we see hackers, free culture, and online journalists – freedom technologists – coming together as highly effective “protest formulas” (Postill, 2014), and the effectiveness of the new media in mediating mobilisation that greatly increases the odds of dissenting people taking part in offline protests such as that of Tahrir Square in 2011 (Tufekci and Wilson, 2012). In the latter case, Tufekci and Wilson describe the prominent role of the “community of tweeps”, activists both in and through the new media, who knew and trusted each other through “years of activism, blogging, training, conferences, and key platforms like those provided by the Harvard-based NGO Global Voices”.

    These examples show that, in the words of Lievrouw, “mediation comprises an ongoing, mutually shaping relationship between people’s uses of communication technology (reconfi guration) and their communicative action (remediation) that produces social and technological change”. This shows the symbiosis between media’s technical infrastructure and social action. “Mediation is a continuous, mutually constitutive interrelationship between reconfi guration and remediation”. The former is about technology and systems, whilst the latter is about content, interaction and relationships.

    I found an academic paper by Carroll and Hackett (2006) useful in extending this discussion of the symbiotic relationship between mediation and social activism. The authors explore contemporary practices in democratic media activism (DMA) and relate it to social movement theory. They find four predominant forms of action concerned with democratising communication: influencing content, advocating reform of government policy/regulation, building independent, democratic and participatory media, and changing the relationship between audiences and media. They say that it is “the addition of these to the repertoire of collective action in advanced capitalised societies that has arguably transformed the strategy of protest movements in general”.

    Lidia, your example of Maka Angola is a very useful one, as it highlights several of these forms of action. I agree very much also with your observations that it is important to understand the political and media culture and the limitations imposed by physical infrastructure. I suspect, though, that despite the limited access to the Internet, the website plays an important agenda setting role, opening up the public sphere for discussions of previously suppressed topics that reach many more people through other media channels. In doing so this not only counters corruption but promotes transformation of the mediascape in Angola.


    Carroll W. K. & Hackett R. A. (2006) Democratic media activism through the lens of social movement theory, Media, Culture & Society © 2006 SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi), Vol. 28(1): 83–104

    Postill, J. 2014: Freedom technologists and the new protest movements: A theory of protest formulas, Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, SAGE Online First

    Tufekci Z. & Wilson C. (2012) Social Media and the Decision to Participate in Political Protest: Observations From Tahrir Square, Journal of Communication 62 (2012) 363–379

  2. Christos Mavraganis

    Congratulations Lidia for a very interesting and well written post. You raise a series of challenging issues, but I think the most important one is whether alternative websites, like Maka Angola can really contribute to a more democratic and anti-corrupt society.
    Your answer is what I also believe, and this is that having alternatives can’t be worse than being informed by only one source, especially if this source is controlled by state factors. And your case study is a typical example of such an example. In my post about the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, and his attempts to globalize the greek debt discussion, I referred to the Reporters Without Borders’s ranking list about press freedom. Angola’s position in that list makes it clear that some very serious state control issues are occurring. This country holds the 123rd place out of a total of 180 countries globally!
    As I agree with you in the primary question of your post, about the existence of alternatives in the information sources, I believe that my input can be helpful if I give you some opinions that explore… the other side of the coin!
    For example, Sean Aday’s loud and clear suggestion is that we have to “be skeptical of sweeping claims about the democratizing power of new media”. To explain this argument, he cites that even though “new media can plausibly shape contentious politics, they are only one among a number of important political factors”(Aday, 2010, p. 26).
    Another similar view is made by Shirky who is going one step further from the original thinking of the benefits that the alternative new media are offering. He’s also skeptical and what he’s saying about the social media tools makes sense: they “produce as much harm to democratization as good, because repressive governments are becoming better at using these tools to suppress dissent” (Shirky, 2010, p. 6). Therefore, the Maka Angola might (and probably is) a vital change for the media scenery in the country, but still it can be reversed and used as a “weapon” from the government in favor of the state interests.
    You’ve referred to the internet connection obstacle, which was a very accurate observation. We can spend endless hours talking about the pros and cons of the new media, or the advantages and disadvantages of the mainstream media; but is there really a reason to discuss about the new media if the internet connectivity is not for granted? This barrier is pointed out by Cammaerts, while he’s referring to several social movements (eg Zapatista or the green movement) around the world. He is referring to the media as a ‘symbolic arena’ (Cammaerts, 2007, p. 220), where communication and interaction can grow, but especially for the new media, he notes that the connection between the Internet and activism has some problems. One of them is the internet connection that you’ve also referred to in your post.
    To sum up, you gave a very organized analysis of an alternative media source in a country where the freedom of speech appears to be completely absent. The obstacles are innumerous and the difficulties are endless but I repeat that I couldn’t agree more with you on whether there is need for alternative actors of information and communication. And to answer to your question on the title… yes!The new media activism can promote social change.

    Well done Lidia, this was a very interesting post and Lievrouw’s choice for backing up your case was very successful.



    Aday, S., Farrell, H., Lynch, M. et al. 2010: “Blogs and Bullets: New Media in Contentious Politics”, Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace.

    Shirky, C. 2010: The political power of social media technology, the public sphere, and political change, Foreign Affairs 90: 28-I.

    Cammaerts, B. and Carpentier, N. (eds) (2007) Reclaiming the media: communication rights and democratic media roles. Intellect: Bristol, UK.!/