Communication in social movements -the peasant movement in Paraguay

The peasant movement in Paraguay experiences a broad support from various societal actors that themselves may have formalized their networks, but from a holistic viewpoint on the movement as a whole, the networking is of a very informal nature, spread via mouth, sms and, often private, social media accounts. The organizational networks inside the FNC continuously interact and try to coordinate the movements together with unassociated members, a representative stated in 2016(Pertoft 2017: Interview 3). 


The FNC’s organization thus seems to be a child of its time. Poell and van Dijck discuss how the use of social media transforms the organization and communication of social movements from structured with a head persons/leaders to more unstructured mass user activity enabled by the social media platforms(Poell and van Dijck 2018: 1). While some scholars find that social media platforms enable more bottom-up, distributed forms of protest mobilization, organization and communication, others stress there are simply new forms of hierarchy and leadership in the social media age(Poell and van Dijck 2018: 3). 

The latter scholars stress how prominent core users and the strategies and angles they choose have a great influence. Even though formal leadership might have been missing, informal leadership has still been essential in studied movements, they find. These “leaders”, however, do often seem to wish not to be recognized as such(Coleman 2014). This is suggested to be due to security reasons but also the movements horizontal image. Todays movements seek a strong participatory approach(Poell and van Dijck 2018: 4). 

In Paraguay, public media is state-controlled and endeavours to counteract and reduce the rise of social movements. The peasant movements interest stands in opposition to the government’s economic interests. Community radio stations have been closed down by the autocratic government, in that way silencing critique(World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, 2005). A study completed by the Latinobarómetro shows that in the early 21st century, as low as 10% of Paraguayans, the lowest rate in Latin America, were “very” or “fairly” satisfied with the functioning of their democratic polity(Hagopian & Mainwaring 2005: 334). 

As for social media enabling organization, marginalised groups in particular seem to value social media as a means to raise their voice. According to Anderson et al, black and hispanic citizens view social media as an especially important tool for their own political engagement(Anderson et al 2018). Margetts et al also point out that “social media extend the range of political activities that citizens can undertake, lowering the cost to an extent whereby people are offered the opportunity to make micro-donations of time and effort to political causes’(Margetts et al 2016: 196–197). 

Unwin, however, finds that the poorest are often excluded from the advantages of the new technologies. He believes that marginalised people and communities can be empowered by the development of innovative pro-poor technologies and an increased dialogue between governments and citizens with respect to security and privacy amongst other things(Unwin 2017: last chapter).

The FNC in Paraguay not only faces the disadvantage of the easy monitoring and possible restriction of social media by government authorities, but also the activist’s lack of access to new media and the internet. Although internet usage has increased greatly in the past decade, still only a slight majority of the Paraguayan population is connected(Chevalier 2019). Furthermore, Unwin points out that it is not only the access to technology that makes a difference, but finds that people with different socioeconomic background use information technology differently; while already advantaged use it for further benefit, the less advantaged them mainly for amusement(Unwin 2017: last chapter). 

Unwin concludes by writing that he believes also the marginalised can be empowered through the use of social media. In order for ICTs to create a fairer world, context-specific measures need to be taken, he writes. Carlos Goncalvez, the editor of DemoInfo, a Paraguayan NGO in the field of ComDev cooperating with the FNC, seems to agree by stating that gained technical knowledge and accessibility strengthens organizational consolidation and enriches it with new dimensions(Pertoft 2017:23). 

References

Anderson, Monica, Toor, Skye, Rainie, Lee, Smith, Aaron, 2018, Activism in the social media age, https://www.pewinternet.org/2018/07/11/activism-in-the-social-media-age/ Retrieved 23.10.2019

Chevalier, Stéphanie, 2019, https://www.statista.com/statistics/209113/number-of-internet-users-per-100-inhabitants-in-paraguay-since-2000/ Retrieved 23.10.2019

Coleman, G, 2014,  Hacker, hoaxer, whistleblower, spy: The many faces of anonymous. London: Verso

Hagopian, Frances, Mainwaring, Scott, 2005, The third wave of democratization in Latin America, Cambridge University press

Margetts, H., John, P., Hale, S., & Yasseri, T, 2016, Political turbulence: How social media shape collective action. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press

Pertoft, Ronja, 2017, Self-determination in a development aid relationship -a Paraguayan case study, Lund University

Poell, T.; van Dijck, J. 2018. Social Media and new protest movements in: Burgess, J., Marwick, A. & Poell, T. (eds.): SAGE Handbook of Social Media. London: Sage

Unwin, T, 2017, Reclaiming Information & Communication Technologies for Development, Oxford: Oxford University Press

World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, 2005, Authorities close Ñemity FM community radio station, confiscate equipment. Retrieved 23.10.2019

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