Upvotes And Uprising: The role of Social Media in Activism

In his article in The Guardian, Evgeny Morozov backs Malcolm Gladwell in arguing that social media is not essential in modern activism, contrary to popular belief. Morozov suggests that social media invites people into clicktivism, the act of loosely engaging in activism via the internet with little to no effect and that when social media is used in the field it’s merely an organizational tool. On the other hand, people such as Maria Popova stand against Gladwell’s claims saying that we can’t trivialise the power of networking as a tool for activists to collaborate, organise and broadcast. Morozov seems to focus too much on what social media doesn’t do instead of what it does, he argues that during unrest in The Middle East, social media only served as a way to make ‘weak’ virtual connections between activists, but on must consider; Could these people form such connection without social media and would the relevant uprisings have been so powerful without these connections?.

Hong Kong citizens protest Beijing mandate for control

On 26 September, people of Hong Kong began protesting against a law that would allow Beijing to influence candidates for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, effectively gaining control of the area through political pressure of candidates having to be accepted by Beijing officials. The number of people protesting this violation of democracy reaches into the thousands.

China has been known for it’s strict media censorship and control of the flow of information and as such it’s quite interesting to see how the government is responding to the uprisings in Hong Kong. Newspapers in Hong Kong and Beijing tend to avoid the story entirely for fear that it will sow support for the protesters and newspapers with articles that do address it do so in a way that highlights how the protests are disrupting the day to day lives of regular citizens or suggest that the ‘majority’ disagree with the protesters.

In terms of social media, image sharing app, Instagram has been blocked, government run online newspapers are suggesting similar misleading information as mainstream media and the internet in China, especially Weibo (Chinese equivalent of Facebook) are being monitored for key words relating to the protests in order to censor communication and broadcasting of images and information. An Article by Emily Parker in The New Yorker looks at how social media is being used by protesters in Hong Kong and it appears to revolve around inviting people to engage through apps such as Whatsapp, organising movement and communication through more apps such as Firechat and sharing images and information through instagram (before it was blocked) and by anyone who has gotten around China’s great firewall.

What Does it Say?

Gladwell says that social Media doesn’t play an important role in revolution and that revolution is driven by its people, what Gladwell fails to see (Possibly because he doesn’t use social media) is that uprisings are where the populace is empowered and there is nary a better way to be empowered than the way people are empowered  by social media and the freedom of the internet. Considering the power of the Chinese Government, reform in Hong Kong will be extremely difficult but as we have previously seen in Egypt and during the Arab Spring, when people get together online, no amount of censorship and anti dissent propaganda can deter the voice of the people.

Social media amplifies that voice.


6 thoughts on “Upvotes And Uprising: The role of Social Media in Activism”

  1. Great way to include such a recent event, and relate it back to the topic.

    You’re point on Gladwell failing to understand due to his lack of an online presence was spot on. As I read Popova’s article, I thought the same!

    Your information is very well organised, and using the screen captures of tweets was a nice way of engaging the reader. Thanks for a good read!

  2. Hi you make some good points about China’s response to Occupy Central, but I think it’s important to include in your post how Hong Kong has not conducted the same censorship measurements. Instagram has not been blocked in Hong Kong which means messages are still being spread on the platform (only access has been restricted to China by the Government). I think the difference between Hong Kong and its grandfather, China seems to be blurred in this post. I have a friend who’s currently in the movement so I just wanted to show the online contrasts and how Hong Kong, to a point, operates differently to China. For example, news about the protests might be restricted in China but in Hong Kong it’s the opposite. The majority of news being produced by South China Morning Post, a news outlet, is to do with Occupy Central. Check out the South China Morning Post Facebook page here https://www.facebook.com/southchinamorningpost

  3. You made good use of links and I spent a fair bit of time jumping across sites from your blog. I enjoyed reading your blog as you focused on clicktivism which I didn’t talk about in my blog. I found some other interesting sites on clicktivism when I was searching for stimulas after reading your blog. Here is a site I think you may enjoy looking at http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2013/11/18/clicktivism-why-social-media-not-good-charity it looks at why social media is not good for charity. The example you used of the Hong Kong citizens protest was also a really good one as China has been known for it’s strict media censorship and control of the flow of information. This was a really interesting post to read so thanks.

  4. Hi,
    I really liked your post. It was engaging and current. I found that Morozov’s idea that social media activism is simply clicktivism is wrong as he has completely missed the point of social media. It is a tool that is used for drawing people together in one place to call for change and it is this unanimous voice that is needed for change.
    I loved your finial line, “no amount of censorship and anti dissent propaganda can deter the voice of the people” and this is so true.
    Great post!

  5. The Chinese Government, always leading the fight on shutting down anything that could cloud their perfect image and another perfect example. They are attempting to shut down all avenues that people could take showing and highlighting the unrest in the country on a global platform for all eyes too see. I don’t know why they are so torn up about people seeing whats happening, they should be listening to their people to make change. By these young people using social media as their outlet it only amplifies their voice and I think that social media is the glimmer hope that these are people are holding onto as the news that would be leaving this country would be filled with false statements and skewed opinions in favour of the country – marxists elites strike again.

  6. Really liked your final paragraph. Your opinion based on what you explained above contrasted with Gladwell’s views was well put together. I totally agree, especially with the case of the Hong Kong protests. Gladwell I believe too is wrong because he seems to fail to understand, as with the case of the student protesters in Hong Kong, that social media became the avenue that they needed to connect, communicate, inform and motivate. Social media undoubtedly empowers people and to think without, how could such movement happen today.

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