Political Activism Using Twitter

(Naughty naughty me! I have had this blog post in draft mode for weeks now and have finally got around to posting it)

I wrote a post some time ago called Twitter, Charity, Activism & the Social Web which has been getting a lot of traffic of late so I thought I would revisit some of these themes.

Today, I will explore some examples of how people are using micro-blogging services such as Twitter to provide awareness about off-line, real world activism.

In April, Twitter was used in Moldova to organise a protest. The BBC have posted an interview with the protest organiser, Natalia Morar. She claims that she was suprised at the turn out as there was no intention for such a large-scale protest.

“It just happened through Twitter, the blogosphere, the internet, SMS, websites and all this stuff. We just met, we brainstormed for 15 minutes, and decided to make a flash mob [internet-organised spontaneous public gathering]…

“In several hours, 15,000 people came out into the street”

The hashtag #pman was used on Twitter to mobilise people – #pman standing for “Piata Marii Adunari Nationale“, which is Romanian name for the biggest square in Chisinau, Moldova’s capital. (The best account I have found about this can be found here)

The organising of political protests in Moldova can  result in a jail term, and the Guardian reported that Natalia went into hiding shortly after the protests.

Information Warfare Monitor have written a good piece on the use of twitter in Moldova: Moldova: Was it really a “Twitter Revolution”?

” This is a very interesting case of more sophisticated tactics for activism. People have realized the ability of the tool not only to draw people to your cause, mobilize efforts or provide information, but they were able to harness it’s ability to spread information with the explicit goal of attracting attention to a particular event that otherwise may have gone largely unnoticed. For them, personally, this means international pressure on a government and an election that determines their very well-being. “

[SRC: Information Warfare Monitor]

Evgeny Morozov has written a very considered post called
Why promoting democracy via the internet is often not a good idea
about cyber-activism in different regimes, and he notes the dangers of cyber-activism in some countries, for example:

“Facebook activism could also easily backfire for it has one inherent flaw: it allows authorities to quickly and easily identify all dissenters – even those who were willing to lend only their virtual support to the campaigns – and put them on their “to be watched closely” list (and then to actually rely on technology to carry out their surveillance).

This article is very interesting and well worth a read.

The good folk at DigiActive recently posted an interesting PDF called “The DigiActive Guide for Twitter for Activism“. This article contains case studies, advice for campaigners, and a step-by-step strategy for using Twitter for political and social change.

Some students doing their MA in International Journalism at City University, London experimenting with citizen journalism, covered the protests at the G20 summit in the UK live using mobile podcasts, video, images, twitter tweets, with a Google map mash-up showing the locations that the reporters were reporting from. The site produced called ‘The Experiment streamed media produced at this protest live.

Following the subject of event coverage, you may have witnessed the flurry of social media comments during the terrorist attacks in Mumbai last November. I recall watching the enormous amount of comments about the attacks on twitter and the request by Indian authorities to stop  broadcasting information about the attacks as it was affecting their  activities on the ground.  A Google Map Mashup recording the locations of the attacks was posted quickly, as well as Flickr photos, and even a Wikipedia entry….before the traditional media were able to get coverage. While Twitter offered the first news of the attacks, the small signal to noise ratio perpetuated by twitter, did not negate the need for more thorough and considered coverage of the event.

Alexander Wolfe discusses this in more detail:

“My point here is not to criticize, but simply to note that I was struck, as never before, by the ability of data to outstrip information.

I’d add that Mumbai is likely to be viewed in hindsight as the first instance of the paradigmatic shift in crisis coverage: namely, journalists will henceforth no longer be the first to bring us information. Rather, they will be a conduit for the stream of images and video shot by a mix of amateurs and professionals on scene.”

I have a lot of examples on how governments are using technology, but I will save these for another post.

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