This week’s readings provided an intriguing, nearly stereoscopic, perspective on variant ways in which social media can inform, shape, foment, or delimit opportunities for collective social action. While at first glance it seems simple to apply a directly correlational relationship between social media activity and social action, closer inspection of these articles illustrate that such analyses may risk radical oversimplification of the dynamics at hand.
For example, both Poell and Borra’s discussion of the relationship of social media with the 2010 Toronto G20 protests and Lim’s analysis of the role of social media in Egypt in the midst of the “Arab Spring” movement emphasize the capacity of social media to bridge the gaps between discordant groups and to create coalitions via a sense of shared objectives. In Toronto, this bridging occurred among a variety of social action-oriented organizations: “the Canadian Labour Congress, Greenpeace, Oxfam, and the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty” (ibid. 696). In Cairo, this bridge building occurred among an even more diverse group of political activists. Critically, in both cases, social media networking enabled these disparate entities to reach consensus in objectives to the point that cooperative efforts could be made.
Additionally, both articles emphasized the need for efforts in the social media sphere to relate with activities outside of the web. Specifically, while calls to action could be echoed across the web via social media, the key to successful engagement in both cases relied on connections between effective social media communications with effective management and coordination offline as well. Consider these examples as mutually converse to failed attempts to activate publics via social media, such as the ambiguously effective Kony2012 movement.
Intriguingly, although this week’s readings certainly shared many features, their distinctions may provide even more advantageous insights into the components of successful social media efforts to activate political publics. One major distinction between the two articles (and movements) was the need for effective management of the narratives surrounding political action. In particular, Poell & Borra frame this in direct opposition to the tendency of mainstream media outlets to frame demonstrations in terms of “events” rather than “issues.” For example, during the Occupy Wall Street movement, mainstream news coverage frequently failed to cover the reasons why protesters were taking to the streets in favor of more salacious stories about excessive police response.
For Poell & Borra, the focus of mainstream media on police response as opposed to the motivations for the demonstrations undermined the efficacy of the demonstrators in presenting their reasons for protest to mainstream publics. Conversely, for Lim, in the Tahrir Protests relatively peaceful protests and relatively muted police responses enabled anti-Mubarak activists to effectively manage the narrative at hand and to effective disseminate their message to a broader public.