Political Activism and Social Media

Can you imagine the Canadian government disabling, on purpose, Internet access all across the country? This is what happened in Iran last week. Yes. That is true. Dictator governments disable the Internet for the whole country!!

By Ramy Raoof – Egypt – Timeline of Communication Shutdown during the RevolutionUploaded by The Egyptian Liberal, CC BY 2.0,

This happened many times during the last decade. I will take Egypt, for example, where a video was shared in Fall 2010 on YouTube exposing police corruption distributing drugs was so widespread that they beat the person who posted it to death. As the news of his death spread, a Facebook page entitled “We are all Khaled Said” was set up, and in a few days, had more than 400,000 followers sharing images of a beaten up corpse. The page organized an event to protest on January 25, 2011, at Tahrir Square in Cairo. Momentum started building up, and people got held. On the morning of the 25th, It was surprising to the enormous and brutal police forces that many well-organized people showed up and were able to occupy the central square of Cairo and to kick the police out. Social Media was used heavily to invite and organize thousands of protesters. The government decided to block internet access for the whole FIVE days. “Activists resorted to calling friends from overseas via telephone to post tweets on their behalf.” Twitter reacted and created Speak2tweet service where people would call a landline, dictate their tweet, and this gets the tweet posted to Twitter with the hashtag #Egypt. This quickly gained momentum. The protesters kept on using social media. One protester summed their strategy well by saying, “We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world.” The Egyptian government has not had a good relationship with social media and its activists since then.

The Internet and especially social media are so powerful as a communications medium. It is so widespread that it is used by many many people to communicate and share ideas, including ideas of freedom, democracy, social justice, global warming. Later, the admin Wael Ghonim of that Facebook page was chosen to be among the Time Magazine 2011 most influential 100

I think Loreli and I agree that Social media allow individuals with no political power to share their ideas and this allowed novel models of activism. Let me explain. The 2005 movie “V for Vendetta” ( if you have not, I think you should spend the two hours watching it), tried to send the message that those if those individuals gather themselves can make profound changes in their political system. In this clip

By Jan Egil Kristiansen , CC BY 2.0,

The movie explains how V used the media to unite people and define their cause and how to tackle the issues. However, V had to take control of the main TV station to broadcast his message. (A classic first move of protesters is to take TV/ Radio buildings). Fast forward 14 years, with social media available and pervasive, there is no need to make buildings and fight police forces. Take, for example, this Egyptian contractor-turned-activist, Mohamed Ali, who sent a very similar message (to that of V) via Facebook/ Youtube in Sept 2019. People believed him and went to the streets of Egypt, protesting against the military regime. Mohamed is now trying to establish a unity opposition front outside Egypt to resist the dictatorship. Social media allowed the Egyptian people to unite on the same issues. Whether he will succeed is something we will know in the coming few months. Social media “creates community, and community is based on togetherness”(castell, 2010).

Could it be that social media is actually uniting people across the globe? In this Fall of 2019, we see people protesting in Hong Kong, Chile, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Honduras, Togo, Iran, Egypt, Algeria and many other countries across the globe (teachers in Oklahoma last year, and teachers in Virginia this year, the Black lives matter, and the #MeToo as well) . Social media plays a fundamental role in these protests. Protesters across the globe are sharing techniques to circumvent face recognition technology used by the Chinese government. They use masks, and laser pointers. Also, an idea was shared on social media to use air blowers to diver tear gas back in the direction of the police! NIFTY! I bet Hong Kong stores are sold out. If this is not global citizenship, then what can be?

This affects us as educators. We should consider global issues in our curriculum. I am afraid if we don’t, we are not serving our students the best. Mainly, that many of these problems are, if not replicated in different countries, linked to each other and will affect the student’s future. Social media make these issues universal, and our students are subject to discuss them be affected by them at any moment. Daisy summed it up beautifully when she said ” I think my responsibility as a teacher really lies with fostering discussions, promoting good social media practice, and teaching strong media literacy skills. There’s no better way to create active digital citizens than providing others with the ability to think and speak for themselves.”

2 thoughts on “Political Activism and Social Media

  1. Thank you, Nataly! I did not know some of these had happened… which is a whole other conversation perhaps. You’ve given me much to think about and a desire to broaden the scope of my personal reading and learning about world events.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Social Activism | Seymour's Social Media Discoveries

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