Networked Protests in the 21st Century: Strengths, Weaknesses and Protester Desires

Event Date: 

Friday, February 6, 2015 - 12:00pm

Event Location: 

  • Ellison Hall 3824 (Lane Room)

Zeynep Tufekci
Assistant Professor, School of Information and Library Science, UNC

Early predictions about Internet's impact on social movements was that lower coordination costs afforded by internet technologies would help help fuel movements, but that online symbolic acts, derided as slacktivism, would turn out to be of little to no influence. Based on field research and study of in multiple large movements, including those of the so-called Arab Spring, Gezi protests in Turkey, Occupy in the United States, I conclude the opposite. Lower coordination costs allow movements to scale up quickly, and thrusts them into spotlight, at large scale, with little organization or infrastructure. This is convergent with protester desires: not having organization and leaders has been a long-standing feature of (left) leaning movements around the world (and if anything, this desire only seems to be spreading to places without such a tradition). This quick scaling up has not helped movement prepare for next phases of protest activity, resist repression, or undergo tactical shifts. On the other hand, the spread of epistemic action through symbolic acts appears to be one of the features of social media that feeds activism through longer-term survival, especially by changing calculations of pluralistic ignorance and public formation.