In a recent article written by Sandra Gonzalez-Bailon of Al-Jazeera, the question of how long the effects of protests and ideas started through social media sites will last. The example brought up in the article is the Spanish “outraged” movement, which united under the slogan “Real Democracy Now”. Last May tens of thousands of people organized and protested, demanding reform for better political representation. While some changes were made in the government in response to this effort, overall little change was accomplished. The effect of the global Occupy movement was also brought up, that at this point we can not state the full extent that the movement has changed the system, but currently few of the demands of the Occupy movement have been met.
This is contradicted with the successes seen in the Arab Spring movement that swept through the Middle East and Northern Africa this past year. In the cases seen in Tunisia and Egypt and the like, a movement started online through Facebook, e-mail, and Twitter took to the streets and resulted in the overhaul of the governments in efforts made by the people. This raises the question of what differentiates from online movements from truly becoming a movement or just a trend?
One statement in the article that sums this up well follows,
Online networks make contentious politics easy because they are fluid: anyone can help boost a protest by re-tweeting messages or posting a link to their Facebook friends; but this makes participation transient and short-lived, unable to deal with the long-term dynamics of the political process. Most instances of digitally-enabled mobilisations lose steam soon after they erupt, losing the momentum for political change.
This can be seen in many of the recent “movements” in the United States, with a high level of participation digitally, but with a much smaller number truly participating in the movement on the ground. The two best examples are of the Occupy movement, with a large level of support online, but with little accomplished in the actual world. The second is Kony2012. From my experiences with it, the video trended for several days, with millions supporting the video with the realization that there is some horrible man terrorizing Africa. However within just a day or two, almost all discussion of the video ended, at least among my peer group. It will be interesting to see if the video is actually able to spawn a true movement, with people participating in raising awareness about Kony on April 20th.
Overall this article raises more questions than I am able to answer. The most important of these is the role the social media and the internet can play in successful movements throughout the world. Is social media a way to start ideas as in Kony? or as a way to unite those with similar ideologies such as the Arab Spring movements? As social media and the internet continue to develop and we continue to understand it better, it will be interesting to see the changing role that it plays in our daily lives.