Social movements are usually understood as a positive aspect of democracy and international community takes kindly to the use of media – especially social media – as means of raising awareness on topics discussed locally. By using it, people feel empowered and grassroots movements acquire a wider dimension and worldwide recognition, resulting in transitions that are most of times congruent to the Western concepts of free countries and peoples.
However, as seen so repeatedly, internet is no panacea for the flaws of the ruling regimes, offering its own perils. Those are related to a plethora of factors, including the sheer number of users, the technological limitations, the offline response and, naturally, the sense in the message spread. At the same time it is ridiculously easy to turn the idea of a manifest public and equally facile to lose it in the middle of the infinity of information poles the web provides society with, which turns the widest of the webs into the doctor and the monster among the ultimate reactive media.
Ready. Set. Like!
The concept of a ‘radical media’ was coined for comprehending way more than just internet. According to John Downing, this sort of media foments group discussions that result in political and social changes. The online medium goes even further, he says, since leaders and adepts are no longer in a hierarchy, which allows the roles of information sources and followers to be temporary and interchangeable. It offers fluidity, rapidity, magnitude and echo to whatever one intends to communicate, it gives transmitters a chance of being heard and supported, making it therefore much more likely to evolve to actions outside the CPU box.
Even so, the first hurdle in the process of turning online sympathy into political actions is the inert user. Ideologically, this user might fully support a cause, and yet do nothing but liking it on Facebook. In a major backfire of a worldwide network, they can feel that they have done more than enough. The vast number of no-shows in manifestations initially created on Facebook makes a good picture of how online actions can differ from reality. Changes in society, nevertheless, are not in the slightest thoroughly achieved through machines. It is necessary that political consciousness goes beyond getting one’s hands dirty – of typing.
I see binary people
Even if knowing how to militate online is still not a rule, it is no wonder that those who acknowledge their power can make political advances independently of distance or geographic location. Governments, on the contrary, seem to flounder, never quite understanding how to master internet and effectively communicate with citizens.
Fromthe Ejército Zapatista de Libertación Nacional to the Arab Spring, social movements made it LCD clear that information and action can be spread, absorbed, fueled by what is on the net, with or without the permission from the government. Political regimes and citizens lack the formula for success on the internet, as this medium reinvents itself all the time. If the latest political happenings rooting on it could teach us something , it is that only by learning how to connect to the insurgents, will those in power have any chances of remaining immune to conflict.
Ultimately, the biggest challenge that online social movements bring is less about how to stay in control than about how to adapt the democratic agora to a beta extension. It also touches the definition of a glocal movement that takes place whenever supporters from all over the world fit to local demands and make international pressure. Hence, besides having reached a governmental sphere, internet modifies in a deep, structural way, starting to update into what we nowadays (still) take for diplomacy and its features.
A classic illustration of the need for a new, modern diplomacy is Julian Assange’s Wikileaks. The news spread by him and his team provoked the reflection of what secrets are truly safe, how to cope with the leaks and, yet, how to keep diplomatic agreements once a country is exposed. It was natural that, after having disclosed their privileged information, the diplomatic forces included some parcels to their (now uncensored) equation. One of the most important among them was the knowledge of numerous civilians and their opinions across the globe that have the power to join NGOs and institutions in their claim for transparency.
How to return an unwanted revolution
Neither the lethargic revolutionaries nor the diplomatic inabilities to read between the html lines are as dangerous as the capability that the international goodwill has to botch up local embryonic negotiations. Although this has not been taken commonly, it is one face of online activism that may bring serious aftermaths to the ideal well-being. Here, ‘well-being’ will be defined as a situation settled in equilibrium according to the local values, which is difficult for the average well-educated, politically engaged, result-oriented and ideologically biased western thinking.
The online anxiety for changes eventually causes disastrous effects for the panoply of actors involved, as it did in Darfur, not many years ago. The international community urged for human rights on the individual level, putting forward convenient and politically correct arguments that enforced enormous rush for action.
Unfortunately, those aspirations did not completely match the local expectations, which prioritisedpeace and reconciliation. The failure to take the peace negotiations one step further was due to the incongruence between the outer demands and the inner necessities, in addition to the use of a ‘deadline diplomacy’ that added extra tension to the moment and still could perfectly portrait how internet political enthusiasts can confuse the idea of quick communication with simple resolution of the political problems.
The bright side of the monitor
In a nutshell, it is easily seen that activists counterbalance their dearth of organisation with the excess of eagerness to change the old governance system. It is time for a new order and they are still experimenting with a medium that is not made to surf on, but surely to deep dive. It is more than expected that misunderstandings, as well as unfavourable results occur in a near future, nonetheless it is nothing compared to the huge power people finally acquired to rethink and redesign the politics that interfere so much in their lives, be that locally or globally, for a more equalitarian society and in more reasonable systems.