I wrote this write-up for a research journal during May 2012. In its concluding part, I am writing my afterthoughts here.
2011 MASS UPRISINGS: SOCIAL MEDIA TRENDS
“In North Africa and the Middle East, relatively new youth movements have been surprised by the speed, size and success of protests they have organized over social networking Websites. Over several years they have found their political voice online and have held their meetings virtually. Each of the dictators in these countries has long had many political enemies, but they were a fragmented group of opponents. Now these opponents do more than use broadcast media to highlight their claims. They use social media to identify goals, build solidarity, and organize demonstrations. During the Arab Spring, individuals demonstrated their desire for freedom through social media, and social media became a critical part of the toolkit used to achieve that freedom.” - The Project on Information Technology and Political Islam, University of Washington
Social media has been a buzzword for quite sometime now. But what one would find if one went to google the term until the ‘year of the protester’ happened – eight out of the ten links would be based on information detailing out the use of social media as strategic marketing tool. “Companies that actively experiment with social media in their business processes will transform their relationships with customers and create value in unforeseen way,” (an Accenture report) - management dictums like these were happen to be the norms in the online search sphere on ‘social media’.
That was until recently. 2011 has changed much, and for good.
The observation from the report of ‘The Project on Information Technology and Political Islam’ is just one example of the increasing role of the social media beyond its marketing uses.
If we consider the simple corollary of basic marketing anthem, i.e., developing relationship between the need of the product and the consumer with a designed communication package, any new communication platform is used strategically first by the marketers in a world dominated by capitalist/neo-liberal economies.
It’s beyond marketing or sociological use depends on the scale with which the communication platform is adopted by the masses as an interactive mode of communication.
And social media being driven by the interactive power that the new media technologies like the Internet and mobile communication provide has gone much beyond any mode of communication in reaching to the masses as the events of 2011 tell us.
Social media was the most significant outreach tool in the most disturbed parts of the world. It rode well on the robust growth in information technology usage.
The reach has increased significantly. Globally, Internet now reaches to over 30 per cent of the population. And much of this growth has come in the last decade – at scorching pace, a factor that can be attributed to the ‘speed, size and success’ complement for the Arab Spring – when the sense of ‘uses’ satisfaction ‘gratifies’ for enhanced ‘uses’!
True, much has to be done in the Arab Spring countries. Egypt and Libya recently saw elections but chaotic times are still ahead. Yemen is more an eyewash and is bound to see further activity. Other Arab countries, where the protester tried to make his voice heard, i.e., Bahrain and Syria, remain in dark. Tunisia, though, is a green patch.
Putin has comfortably reinstated him as the next Russian President and in a way has qualified to the high scales of the dictator-in-making tag. China, in the year of its supreme political body power transition, is being very cautious.
India’s anti-corruption movement looks to have fizzled out by the well-organized con of politicians as well as personally motivated and misplaced agendas of the so-called Team Anna members. There was always the talk of Anna and Team Anna being two separate entities but then Anna Hazare could not get sensible advisors to rework and strengthen his vision, something that he lacks in his personal capacity.
Occupy, though has occupied a place in the psyche, seems to have taken a back seat if we count the upscale activities.
But, 2011 has shown us the possibility of the ‘impossible’ getting ‘possible’. It has sown the seed.
Unrest was there, on the grounds, where movements spoke. It needed expression, connect and mobilization. Social media was the most significant tool to realize these three fundamental factors.
Unrest is there where the voices were suppressed or movements were manipulated to go awry. Let’s hope the ‘spiral of silence’ is going to hold its validity even here.
On July 29, 2012, when Anna Hazare started his anti-corruption fast again, he got supporters reaching to the fast venue in large number that was not there when his other team members were on fast. While writing anything positive for the fate of the movement at this stage would be premature, the large number of supporters tells us the unrest is brewing. It needs expression, connect and mobilization.
True, China is being very cautious but the whole world became witness to the high-profile and daring escape of the blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng from house prison and his subsequent flight to the US.
With ever-increasing role of information technology in our day-to-day lives in a technologically borderless world, the positive avatar of social media is going to stay relevant in playing its pivotal role in informing, motivating and connecting – the basics that movements riding on brewing unrest need.
Let’s see when the next spark comes. It could be anywhere, in the Arab Spring countries with uneasy calm; in China and Russia inviting more State machinations; the ‘Occupy’ may witness a revived fervour; or any from any part of the world where unrest has been brewing for a long time, even in our very own backyard.