Is new media activism an illusion of new solidarity?

New Media generates opportunities for people to share and exchange experiences, discuss ideas and opinions, learn languages etcetera in a new pace and through new tools. So what is the potential of this new media when used for development and social change?

As we have mentioned in the introduction post, many of us think of social media when we talk about new media activism, which is adequate as social media on a societal level creates exceptional opportunities for information flow, emotional expression, and social influence or advocacy (Lewis et al, 2014:1). For me, the deduction of this is solidarity.

A unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a  common interest; mutual support within a group.

In this context it is intriguing to see new media as a medium for solidarity and cooperative action and observe the creation of concepts like “new solidarity” (among others Chouliaraki and Blaagaard, 2014) to express the “new” kinds of solidarity the new media offers, more often to those distant from us.

One example of this is what Leah A. Lievrouw calls mediated mobilization. This addresses the use of “new media as the means to mobilize social movements – collective action in which people organize and work together as active participants in social change” across traditional boundaries and barriers of space, politics and identity (2011:149-159). Further Lievrouw claims that the internet is used to share information and solidarity (ibid:172) so there seems to be a clear connection between new media and solidarity.

Activism without action

However there are contrasting analysis appealing that social media has “conjured an illusion of activism rather than facilitating the real thing” which indicates a whole other side of the story (Lewis et al, 2014:1 Abstract). Lewis K, Gray K, and Meierhenrich J investigates in their paper the Cause “Save Darfur” on Facebook initiated in 2007, a movement that spurred out from the conflict in Darfur. The “Save Darfur” Cause had more than 1 million followers and were so one of the largest Causes on Facebook. However, according to the analysis the work was mainly done by a few number of “hyperactivists” and bearing in mind the severance and urgency of the issue (genocide) and the extraordinary size of the movement, the influence and activism coming out from the members were extremely modest (ibid:2-4). But is this presentative for solidarity and new media? I would argue that there are examples of the contrary that can bring us hope and we can learn from for the future.

Vi står inte ut (VSIU) (translation “We Can Not Stand It”) is a Swedish social movement created in the end of 2015 when more and more refugees were seeking shelter and a new home in Sweden. Two of the founders decided to create a group on Facebook for a hundred of people to share experiences and advices in their work for the non-accompanied youths’ rights and as a response to what they considered a non-human migration policy by the Swedish government. This Facebook group grew faster than they imagined and in one month they were thousands. The Facebook group has today more than 61 000 likes.

Facebook of VSIU: https://www.facebook.com/vistarinteut/

Creating something “new”

Nevertheless their base is the 8500 social workers, lawyers, health staff, psychologists, volunteers and anyone coming in contact with these young refugees, organized through different closed Facebook groups. Their aim is amnesty for all the non-accompanied young refugees being in Sweden for more than one year and they have coordinated campaigns and advocacy actions through Facebook, Twitter and other social media in combination with more traditional media like newspaper and radio. Today there are changes to be seen in the migration policy that VSIU have advocated for over a long time as results of collaborative activities and actions in cooperation with other actors in the field.

However the results of this movement are not what astonishes me, but rather how it works as a support for the members in difficult situations, and for what it seems they succeed to grow in numbers, intensity and impact. Thanks to this emotional and legal support its members keep finding strength and inspiration to keep fighting together with the non-accompanied youths that so often is left without voice in the debates. New media has for VSIU enabled a platform to create precisely what new media is about – something NEW full with solidarity, empathy and actually love. Members posting for support or advice in the groups can usually receive a hundred comments in less than a day and the comments are both constructive and emotional like “keep fighting you are a hero” or “totally feel with you”.  There are even members who express that without the movement they would not have had the strenght to keep fighting due to the opposition they face (racism) in the name of the non-accompanied young refugees. However the question is still out there; What is it that makes people transform their collective concerns on social change and development into collective action?

References

Chouliariaki, Lilie and Blaagaard, Bolette (eds) (2014) Cosmopolitanism and the New News Media. Oxon and New York: Routledge

Lewis K, Gray K, and Meierhenrich J (eds) “The structure of online activism” in Sociological science, February 2014 volume 1.

Lievrouw, Leah (2011) Alternative and Activist New Media. Oxford: Polity Press

Oxford dictionaries, “Solidarity” https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/solidarity

Vi står inte ut ”Så startade rörelsen” http://vistarinteut.org/sa-uppkom-rorelsen/ (web 2017-09-16)

Vi står inte ut ”Om oss” http://vistarinteut.org/om-oss/ (web 2017-09-16)

Vi står inte ut men vi slutar aldrig att kämpa, Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/vistarinteut/ (web 2017-09-16)

 

 

 

9 thoughts on “Is new media activism an illusion of new solidarity?”

  1. Hey Julia,

    Very nice post. I think you have touched on a very important aspect.

    Everyone of us has noticed, especially after recent attacks in London and Barcelona how social media users from around the world have shared messages of solidarity. These are just some of the good examples showing how solidarity can connect people in a light of mutuality.
    In terms of activism without action, I agree that sometimes that activism is ineffective – so many campaigns are willing to get an attention but the real actions for “a better tomorrow” are not being taken.
    However, in terms of your initial concern and a last question: “What is it that makes people transform their collective concerns on social change and development into collective action?” I think that even if sometimes new media activism can be an illusion it is still very needful especially when some disasters such as the one mentioned above lead to social, political or economic consequences.

    It helps people to respond on an international level to the current events fast and with the minimum cost. 

    1. Thank you Goda for your comments on my post and your in-put on the subject! I’m glad you agree New Media has a great potential for solidarity and your examples of the reactions on social media in times of terrorism are worth thinking about. I might consider them to be another kind or origin of solidarity I read about in the article on “Save Darfur” and that is that people show more solidarity when the subject is closer. But the authors of this article also concludes that we leave the action out when we think in terms of “if I don’t do it somebody else will so whatever”. Maybe this is what make people transform their collective concerns to collective action – believing in the impact one person and therefore understand the enormous impact of a collective. Would love to hear your thought on this!

  2. Hi Julia,

    Thank you for an interesting read. I do agree that there is definitely a link between new media and solidarity, and I think that you are spot on when highlighting the group “Vi står inte ut” which actually seems to have a fair deal of impact.

    Just to turn things around a bit for the sake of it – do you think that there is a risk of the exact opposite happening? I mean that new media could be used in an anti-solidarity attempt? What if a group like “Vi står inte ut” instead was a group determined to spread hatred and fear? Like a trolling-group perhaps? Have you seen any such groups? It would be really interesting to in that case follow up with a post on how groups as such also could “take advantage” of new media.

    Thank you again for a good post.

    / Louise

    1. Hi Louise and thank you for your comment and for interacting with our blog.
      I do think there are groups using new media in purpose to spread fear or hatred, or what you call anti-solidarity. For example in Sweden we have a group of afghan refugees protesting on the streets in the centre of Stockholm since a couple of months ago, organized through a movement called “Ung i Sverige” (Young in Sweden). They demand the Swedish government to cancel all deportations to Afghanistan because of the security risks in the country. At the same time other groups have mobilised against this manifestation and organized contra-manifestations through Facebook demanding all Afghans to be deported and using racist language.
      New media is definitely a tool for mobilisation whatever your reason is and as we can read more and more investigations on how social media and the development it is taking can be considered a risk for democracy as we see more and more of our own opinions and less of the opposition if we do not look for it actively. In other words I think social media can be a tool for solidarity, but also polarization if used for that reason. I found this TedTalk to be thoughtful as I have been thinking about this for a while on how new media in general is not only improving democracy but also puts it at risk without awareness in society.
      Would love to hear your opinion or thoughts on this!
      /Julia

      1. Hi Julia,

        Thank you for replying to my comment. I listened to the Ted Talk that you referred to and agree that it was very interesting. It makes one think one step further about social media and its potential risks to democracy as you say. I think that a discussion on this, with the Ted Talk as a point of departure, would make up for an excellent next blog post 🙂

        Louise

        1. Thank you Louise,
          I’m glad you felt inspired by the TedTalk. I will keep your comments in mind when preparing for my next post! Wish you the best of luck with yours and will make sure to follow your blog as well 🙂

          Julia

  3. Hi Julia,
    Great topic and close to my post about Young in Sweden and their social mobilization.
    As a Swede I feel much involved in this issue since it is very close to me. Here in Malmö, where I live I have seen demonstrations outside the City Hall and we have all seen news in old and new media about the young Afghans’ situation. As a reflection and comment to the Sudan case that you bring up, there must be something with the distance to Sudan that makes that terrible genocide not so urgent for me up here in a Nordic Country. I believe that the ‘distant suffering’ (Chouliaraki) comes in to play together with media’s depiction of the conflict. Maybe it seems to be too complicated to get involved with? Whilst the Afghan situation in Sweden is closer to me, even though, I am not involved directly working with the young lone refugees.
    ICT and new media is to me just a continuation of the society. Yes, it is easier to stay connected in solidarity but if you have no influence or have no power to change the status quo will sustain.
    Do you believe that the network ‘Vi står inte ut’ have important influencers with power to change? Could this be a key to reach social change?

    1. Hi Carl and thanks for connecting with our blog!
      I completely agree with you that distance is a crucial factor when it comes to solidarity and engagement, and I think it’s quite a natural human behaviour to identify and empathize more with those close to us.
      In terms of #vistårinteut I actually think they are already changing something. They are firmly organized when it comes to political advocacy but also helping those in need of it with shelter or moral support. Actually it’s kind of a social security net but without authorities being involved. Moreover they work so hard on advocacy writing letters, e-mails and making calls to authorities or anyone with political influence, writing articles in local and national newspapers and in the same time promoting their work in all thinkable social media. Recently they were awarded Katarina Taikon award for their work for human rights and against xenophobia which absolutely is an affirmation that they are seen and heard.
      I do not believe that the changes we are seeing, with more and more people protesting against the non-human migration laws and political parties open up the discussion for modifications and reformations, is all thanks to #vistårinteut. Young in Sweden is another huge force together with thousands of citizens demanding to be heard. I would say that democracy is doing its’ thing here! So to answer your question I think it’s Yes and No (very diplomatic). The power to change is crucial of course, but I think it’s something you create and not something you just posess. But in the case of #vistårinteut I believe their diversity is powerful becasue it amplifies their network and they can be present and act at different levels and situations simultaniously.

      I’m looking forward to follow your future posts at the blog!

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