26 Jan 2017
tech & social media

How tech and social media is impacting protest

Social media is impacting all areas of our life. The way we protest is no different. The power of digital media allows the public voice to be heard by many, all over the world. But is it uniting us, or isolating us in a digital bubble of our own making? Our social media exec, Emma, takes a closer look… 

What do we want? A hashtag. When do we want it? Now!

They came from everywhere. They heard the call and congregated together. They protested with placards, and they protested on social media. They trended on Twitter, checked in on Facebook, showed up with SnapChat, and did live broadcasts using Periscope.

Recently, the political landscape has played out on all social media avenues, with often unexpected and surprising results. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or in a wi-fi blackspot, you will have seen the backing of #Brexit, the triumph of Trump, and last weekend’s #WomensMarch.

There have been the hashtags, the trending topics, the shared opinions. They have divided nations and united the whole world. If you have something to say, social media provides a place for every voice to be heard.

That can only be good thing, right?


From the front line to online

The power of social media has never been so evident than with the recent #WomensMarch: 5 million people, 7 continents, 81 countries, 673 marches. It is no surprise that Twitter reached, and inspired, people to march all over the world. From a little town in Nova Scotia with a population of 65, to Washington, London and Sydney to name a few, the impact of one simple hashtag has been astounding.

Tech is giving everyone the power to protest, whether it be from the front line of a march, or through their keyboard. Citizen journalism is now beating many professional media organisations to the punch, as anyone can broadcast what is unfolding around them with digital tools such as Periscope and Facebook Live. Unfiltered news can spread at the touch of a button, and building a following has never been easier.

A swell of support that once took months, even years, to build, can now take a matter of minutes.


Safety in numbers

While Twitter brought women together, Facebook was used to protect. Demonstrators took to the Standing Rock Reservation in Dakota to protest the planned creation of an oil pipeline across the Native American Reservation. Supporters encouraged as many people to ‘check in’ on the social media site in order to ‘confuse officials’.

The Morton County sheriff’s department allegedly used Facebook check-ins to target people at the protest camp, so this social media request aimed to overwhelm and confuse them as to who was actually there. The act became a show of solidarity. In just a few short hours the check-ins grew by over 700,000. Where else can a movement have such an impact so quickly, but on social media?


Bursting the bubble

It’s easy to think that social media is the key to fighting injustices together. Tech and social media allows us to connect with like-minded individuals, and start global discussions. But has it left us living in a social media bubble? Just like we surround ourselves with like-minded friends in the real world, are we doing the same with our digital presence?

Generally, we follow influencers and individuals with similar passions and interests. A tweak in the Facebook algorithm prioritises content from our friends and family to the top of our feeds. There may be 1.6billion social network users worldwide, but Facebook doesn’t give their voices equal value.

This might be why Brexit came as such a shock to many Remain supporters: they simply didn’t have as many ‘Leave’ supporters in their friend list.


Maintaining the momentum

Social media gives us the power to spread our news and opinions, to build a network of supporters and protestors, and take charge of the messages we want to hear. However, after millions of women marched through the streets there is one big question left to answer – now what?

Technology and social media may have promoted the protest, but can it help maintain the momentum? Or will it just be replaced by the next big hashtag?

Social media in protest