The application of new communication tools for digital activism was specifically addressed at the conference on the social web and networked political protests. Andreas Jungherr focused on Twitter while Christina Newmayer and Celine Roff shared their findings on the use of Facebook for digital activism. I hope the presenters will agree to post a summary of their research on DigiActive.
Andreas, whose paper on the use of of Twitter for political activism is available here (PDF), drew on four case studies:
- Assassination of Benazir Bhutto: the news of this event traveled with amazing speed through the community of Twitter users, even overtaking the speed by which the blogosphere was reacting. This incident shows the potential for political activists to distribute highly volatile information through Twitter.
- 2008 SXSW conference in Austin: the journalist Sarah Lacy interviewed Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg in a keynote presentation. A large group of Twitter users in the audience started sharing negative reactions to Sarah’s interview style in real time on their respective Twitter-Feeds. Their criticism was first raised and amplified on their Twitter-Feeds before they expressed their criticism at the keynote presentation itself. This incident shows the potential for political activists to use Twitter as a powerful backchannel to social events.
- San Diego wildfires in October 2007: volunteers and journalists started to use Twitter to distribute live updates on the position of fires and orchestrated collective action. This incident shows that political activists can use Twitter to efficiently coordinate social action and protests. I blogged about the use of Twitter in San Diego here.
- Arrest and release of James Karl Buck in April 2008: the American journalism student was arrested by the Egyptian police while covering a protest event. Via SMS he posted the word “Arrested” on his Twitter-Feed. Friends and colleagues of his monitored his Twitter-Feed and could secure his release in a matter of hours. This incident shows that political activists can use Twitter to monitor each other’s situation and in doing so increase their security.
Christina and Celine used the case of Facebook and anti-FARC protests in Colombia. Their findings suggest that Facebook enhances the link from local to global. They suggest that the virtual world is not really virtual but rather an extension of the real world. They cite the fact that 87% of the countries in which the protests took place have a high a human development index (HDI).