How our activists view social media | Power to the People | DW | 27.05.2013
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Power to the People

How our activists view social media

What impact do networks such as twitter and facebook have on protest movements? Do they facilitate an exchange of ideas or are such protests short-lived and superficial? We asked our activists for their opinion.

Opposition politician Amr Badr from Egypt

Modern communication strategy platforms such as twitter and facebook had a great influence on protest movements as they facilitated reaching a larger number of protesters and eased organizing protests in addition to media coverage. However, it is hard to reach older demographics, the poor and illiterate people who cannot or do not have access to such communication platforms.

Greek lawyer Lila Bellou

Social media and the internet (blogs etc.) help the dissemination of information and contribute to the pluralism of ideas and opinions, which the traditional mass media (TV, newspapers) can’t offer. On the other hand, this abundance of information creates sometimes confusion to those, who don't have enough critical ability and face problems prioritizing important issues. In the case of the “Arab Spring” social media obviously helped the people, who have no other ways to communicate and express their ideas, to be organized in their struggle to achieve democracy.

Ukrainian journalist Tetiana Chornovol

Every medium is important for the development of a protest movement, and there is no doubt that twitter and facebook have a contributing role. In the case of Ukraine, we can’t overestimate the role of social networks. A lot of people here think that twitter and facebook are enemies of civil society because they lead to social isolation and generate virtual “steam”. A well known civil activist in Ukraine, Viktoria Sjumar, once said: “If facebook had existed in 2004, we wouldn’t have had a million people on Independence Square, but a million “likes” on facebook.” Personally I don’t share this view, but we must also be aware of the downsides to twitter and facebook. Repressive state organizations can use social networks to manipulate protest movements and find out more about activists and their "sore spots".

Isabelle Magkoeva, Japanese teacher from Russia

The problem is that in countries ruled by dictators there is hardly any free and independent mass media. The social media networks enable us activists and political organizations to build up something like our own mass media. In the current situation private blogs are just as reliable as a source of information as are official or half-official media outlets. At a time like now when street protests have been interrupted for a while, politics take place on twitter and facebook. Thanks to these social media platforms information is quickly spread throughout the country about state violence, repression and voter manipulation. You can't underestimate the abilities of facebook and twitter to mobilize people for mass actions in the streets. They are simply the most efficient instrument for doing this.

Graphics designer Marc Masmiquel from Spain

Social media networks can spread protests very quickly. But its real influence is limited and often overestimated by the media. They're more about "light-weight protests" which don't threaten the activities or resources of the business mafia. Only the public image is damaged in these cases. The social media platforms is a form of media that can simplify communication and exponentially increase the number of people receiving the information, but the quality of the message is often lost along the way. There's only so much you can say with 140 characters.

Additionally, social media networks present an overly simplified view of the world. The appreciation for the wider picture disappears. Reality is much more complex and can't be expressed by a simple slogan. A sticker can't communicate nearly as much as a book.

Environment activist Quentin James from the USA

The emergence of Twitter and Facebook has flattened means of communicating to the entire world. In protest movements specifically, these platforms solved one of the more major historical problems; fast, free and factual amplification of information. There is no more need to persuade a producer from a large network news outlet to cover your story because it will be online for the world to see. There is no longer a need for the go-between. Often people worry about digital communication making human interactions more superficial and I disagree. If we look at the statistics of partnership sites and how it has revolutionized how people meet to start relationships, I feel that while the human face to face presence is needed, it’s not mandatory.

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