A slightly different use for social media

Most protest movements culminate in some sort of new law or government that satiates the masses. While the OWS movement has drawn attention from thousands if not millions across the globe, so far its most notable legislative accomplishment appears to be a ban on camping in McPherson Square. So, the question is, how does the movement get a response from the government?

Ben Brandzel concludes his critique of Malcolm Gladwell’s paper Small Change with the suggestion that we use social media as a tool to ‘beat back the blaze’ of corporate cash that is ‘running through our democracy like wildfire’. But how can we do that if the government has no Facebook page, twitter, etc.? Luckily we are a democracy and by engaging ourselves we may engage the government. If we can become engaged through social media in activities such as brainstorming potential legislation, informing people how to communicate with their representatives, explaining the legislative process, encouraging people to vote at all levels of elections (not just the presidential ones), we might stand a chance at making a dent in this thing. Just like social media can be used to send a ‘flash crowd’ to occupy a city, so it can be used to inundate a democracy with change—if the right tactics are employed.

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3 responses to “A slightly different use for social media

  1. coffeeshoprhino

    Do you have examples of protests ending with legislative change? And, perhaps examples of where change from within worked (i.e. communicating with representatives and voting)?

    • Correlation between protests and new legislation (such as between the Civil Rights Movement and the Civil Rights Act of 1964) does not necessarily imply that one is causal of the other, however there is evidence to suggest that protest movements are important for the political agenda (Walgrave, Olzak). Walgrave finds that: “The parliamentary, governmental and legislative attention for issues is significantly differently affected by preceding protest activities” (Walgrave 1).

      Specific examples abound, but to give a few:
      -“[I]n Belgium, especially the protests of the new social movements are effective and cause parliament and government to spend more attention to the issue” (Walgrave 1)
      -“[I]nstitutional protest activities significantly raise the rate of Congressional hearings on the environment” (Olzak 1)

      Under the assumption that the OWS movement is an attempt to evoke some sort of societal change, it may be useful to harness some of the political power that protests wield. However as Lipsky notes, scarcity of organizational resources necessitates innovation in protest activities (Lipsky 1150). While no examples of people harnessing protests’ political power in the form of political campaigns or direct communication with representatives are offered here, the suggestion to do so is aimed at increasing the scope of protests methods beyond simple “occupation”. The use of social media in forming political campaigns or communicating with representatives, to the extent that social media is low-cost and may reach a wide audience, is an extension of this suggestion aimed at innovation.

  2. While I agree with you that the movement has yet to achieve any substantial change in terms of legislation thus far, I disagree with your statement that, “the government has no facebook, twitter, etc”. There exists everything from Barack Obama’s official facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/barackobama) to a twitter for College Republicans (https://twitter.com/#!/CRNC). Across the board, different faucets of our government are using social media to get their messages across. Anyone is able to tweet “@BarackObama” (https://twitter.com/#!/BarackObama) and make a statement about the government and the way it’s running. Although its dubious that Obama himself is checking his twitter account, I suggest that those that are responsible for it are fully aware of the power that twitter and other social media can have in social movement and action. In fact, Obama’s twitter account sends out new tweets almost every hour updating his followers on what’s going on. On the Republican Party’s facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/GOP) a post was written up yesterday stating boldly that “Obamacare” is unconstitutional and over 3,000 people “liked” the post. I do agree that social media needs to be used as a public forum for legislational change, but it’s fair to say that this is already happening. The government and its leaders seem to be well “plugged-in” to the social media scene and it could be argued that the overall opinion that seems to be coming from the people through tweets and facebook posts is in fact recognized by the very leaders these people are critiquing and demanding change from. It is true that the OWS movement has yet to make much concrete change in legislation. However, it could be argued that the people are in fact already using social media to, as you put it, “engage ourselves [so that] we may engage the government,” (For example, different Republican and Democratic college facebook pages, twitter accounts etc. run by both government leaders and ordinary citizens) and the government, seemingly just as active in the social media as the people, is already aware of this being done. Perhaps, then, a different tactic, combined with the use of social media, needs to be used to achieve legislative change.

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