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Effect of Social Media on Social Movements and Protests

1795 words (7 pages) Essay in Media

08/02/20 Media Reference this

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Does media constrain or enable social movements and protest actions?

 A social movement is an informal grouping of individuals who strive towards a common goal, either to create or resist change, by empowering oppressed population and against the more dominant and advantaged group.[1] A successful social movement can be said when the movement is approved by or replace the establishment. But, in the first place, the movement needs to reach public consensus and gain enormous public support in order to potentially influence change. In today’s era, a movement is usually organized and documented through media platforms such as newspaper, television, radio and currently most popular social media sites (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc).  It is inevitable that many movements anchored by the media because of its convenience to reach the mass to gain followers or support. However, the role of media is also critically examined that to some extent, it might also constrain social movement despite its positive effects on it.

 Ideally, Habermas’ introduced a concept of the public sphere which is when private individuals gather together in a physical space to freely discuss matters that concern them, which includes economic, societal or political problems.[2] Often, but not always, this group will find solutions and eventually forms a public opinion that is in contrast to the governing state body. Although the public sphere is still where the people have the position to influence action and the governing bodies, it is usually difficult for them to get access to the legal authority to let their voices heard. The idea of ‘public screen’ has now arisen which it has been an alternative platform where public opinion is formed. Rhetoric scholars Kevin Deluca and Jennifer Peeples have enlightened us to re-examine the idea of public sphere because so many democratic enactments nowadays do not occur in a sphere anymore, but rather through a platform that is known as public screen.[3] In a simpler explanation, most of the prominent issues has taken place via our screens such as computers, laptops and cell phones. The public screen occurs mainly in the use of visual representation or ‘image events’ which are depicted to be appealing and ‘sensational’ in order to increase publicity.  So, movements may use public screen to gain benefit in increasing their visibility. Bad publicity might be gained, however, it can be argued that once the movement gets media coverage, it has already set a foot in it. In case of Seattle WTO Protest, media has released an intense footage of violence acts between protestors and policemen which has created bad lasting image for the movement. Seattle WTO Protest is a protest that against the idea of globalisation.[4] (Many groups concern about different consequences of globalisation such as competition with cheap foreign labour, outsource of polluting activities, unsafe imports, etc.) Although it has gained bad publicity due to the violence images or videos, at the same time, it has widely spread and gained public attention. Once it is covered by the media at that moment, the message of the movement about anti-globalization has disseminated to the rest of the world and this might become the prominent topic in public discussion. Thus, it has facilitated and enabled social movement. However, what is represented in image event can only be a small part of the whole context of the movement. People might not know the real struggle to do movement in non-violent and democratic ways. It takes thousands of people to march during the Seattle WTO protest to get media coverage compared to the use of ‘symbolic violence’ which only needs ten violent protestants.

 Media attention is an indispensable resource for any social movement and protest action under today’s circumstances because of its ability in enhancing dissemination. Unfortunately, getting media coverage is not easy to be done as it is said. According to Herman-Chomsky propaganda model, it assumes that the corporate-owned media will always produce news to meet the interest of the established power which means ordinary people or the public do have access to media.[5] This is due to the fact that media has common interest with other industries in the economy which is profitability, and thus, they should be able to maintain conducive economic and political circumstances. The dominant discourses in mass media are usually advertising and public relation because capitalist such large companies will make investment in these areas. In this case, media corporation plays role in manufacturing and filtering news content in a way that they want it to be which is usually to fulfil the desire of the capitalist. For example, if a movement contradicts the interest of the capitalist, it will not be covered by the media. This can be seen through the example of Seattle WTO Protest which was initially not covered because it is clear that the movement against the activities of large and multinational companies, who have major influence on the media corporation. Even if it was covered, the media used ‘symbolic violence’ in the designed image event to deliberately caused distraction to the main message of the movement. The distraction in this case means that the media tried to drive away our attention from the core message of the movement and make us focus more on the violence. Thus, this has somehow constrained social movement because their message might not be effectively delivered and people will usually associate violence with bad movement. Capitalists will always try to retain or gain even more control over their messages by influencing media corporations. Therefore, the control and power over media corporations is often the case that constrains social movement and protest action.

 In this current world, social media has become the most popular sites where it provides participatory media environment for social movements to mobilize people. Social media has features that give opportunities to people to have greater access to information, increased engagement in public discussion, also, an enhanced ability to undertake collective action. Furthermore, social media has introduced the ‘speed’ of how quick information can reach users and enhanced interactivity that is lacking in conventional ways of mobilising people and information dissemination, which usually includes the use of posters, leaflets, brochures, etc. According to Clay Shirky, the old mobilization structures has been replaced by social media and became the new coordinating tool for mostly world’s popular movements in the recent years, because of its capability to embody all elements of social movement (communication, organization, mobilization, validation, and scope enlargement.)[6] Therefore, social media sites as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube has now become the most popular among the users. For instance, the death news of Grace McComas, a 15-year-old girl, has spread widely on the social media and gain many different responses from users. The story of her being brutally bullied online to the extent that she decided to commit suicide has shocked the community and inspired movement to prevent such events. This movement aims to stop the act of bullying and their desire to protect cyber-bullied victims has become successfully feasible through the new state of legislation. With the help of politician that responded to this movement, the introduction of a new law which is called ‘Grace’s Law’ has made that it is illegal to cyber-bully anyone who is under the age of 18. Without the social media, the fight for Grace McComas’ death and generally for all bullied victims’ protection might not be successful.[7] However, techno-pessimist is likely to believe that modern technology is not always positive. In reference of the anti-bullying movement mentioned above, it is true that it may bring people together online to join the movement but it is mainly based on virtual relationship which means people do not necessarily being truly engaged or involved. Lack of engagement and poor involvement will not give promising result to a movement, thus, it could constrain it.

 In conclusion, most of the time media enables social movements and protest action because of its ability to increase dissemination, publicity, visibility and provision of participatory environment. However, to some extent media sometimes constrain social movement because the control and power over media corporation makes it filters and manufactures news in a way they want it to be. It is usually done to meet the interest of established power. Besides, media is a virtual space where people only form virtual relationship. Unlike relationship in the reality world, weak bonds are formed that means people who join any social movement through media do not necessarily show true engagement or involvement and this has somehow constrained the movement.

Reference List

  • Shirky, Clay. 2011. “The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political Change.” Foreign Affairs 90.1: 28-41.
  • Herman, E. and Chomsky, N. (2001/1994), ‘A Propaganda Model’ reprinted in Durham, M. and Kellner, D. Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Michael DeLuca, K. and Peeples, J. (2002). From public sphere to public screen: democracy, activism, and the “violence” of Seattle. Critical Studies in Media Communication,19(2), pp.125-151.
  • Refle, J. (2015). What is a Social Movement?. Social Movement Studies, 15(2), pp.244-245.
  • WMAR. (2018). Local Teen’s Death Leads to New Law. [online] Available at: https://www.wmar2news.com/about-us/teen-media/local-teens-death-leads-to-new-law [Accessed 8 Nov. 2018].

[1] Refle, J. (2015). What is a Social Movement?. Social Movement Studies, 15(2), pp.244-245.

[2] Michael DeLuca, K. and Peeples, J. (2002). From public sphere to public screen: democracy, activism, and the “violence” of Seattle. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 19(2), pp.125-151.

[3] Michael DeLuca, K. and Peeples, J. (2002). From public sphere to public screen: democracy, activism, and the “violence” of Seattle. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 19(2), pp.125-151.

[4] IBID

[5] Herman, E. and Chomsky, N. (2001/1994), ‘A Propaganda Model’ reprinted in Durham, M.               and Kellner, D. Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks, Oxford: Blackwell.

[6] Shirky, Clay. 2011. “The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political Change.” Foreign Affairs 90.1: 28-41.

[7] WMAR. (2018). Local Teen’s Death Leads to New Law. [online] Available at: https://www.wmar2news.com/about-us/teen-media/local-teens-death-leads-to-new-law [Accessed 8 Nov. 2018].

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