Social Media & Civic Movement


What would have been if there were the presence of Facebook or Twitter like Social Media platforms in 9/11. The incident could have been recorded real time with hashtag like #Twintowerattack #Twindowning.  The memories of that horrific day were kept alive even today via Smartphone, tablets and computers (Basu, 2012). The social media came in to existence in 2004 with the start of the MySpace. While in 2008, Barack Obama had used Social Media for Presidential election campaigns to reach millions of audience for the first time in the US Political history. It was highly successful. The 2008 elections were a watershed moment in the use of social media for campaigning and, as we have shown, are changing aspects of governance as well. In many ways, politics has reached a point of no return. The ability to connect directly to people can enhance participation in political processes. Obama has moved information technology into the mainstream of American politics (Espinoza-Vasquez, 2011). Obama’s movement of integrating technology in mainstream political mass mobilization became the new normal of the US politics in the days ahead.

In the case of the Nepal, there are two successful digital campaigns i.e. “Clean Bagmati and Occupy Baluwatar” Campaigns which had been mobilized via mobile phone, SMS & Facebook (Pranika Koyou, 2014).  More than 100,000 people have participated in Clean Bagmati campaigns cleaning the thousands of metric tons of solid waste from the river.  In the case of ‘Occupy Baluwatar’ each day for 2 hours for 106  days, activist demanded for the end to gender based violence. In this movement for the first time, social media played important roles in sharing message of rallies among publics.  Until, recently, social media bought millennial in Mandala; who were outraged by one scam after another and government’s mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis (Rijal, 2020).  

Criticism & way forward

 Above all, civic movements integrating social media tools from the US to Nepal has to be understood in 4 main dimensions i.e. Technological/material Affordances, power relations, practices and discourses. This also has been theorized by the Julie Uldam and Anne Kaun’s , Theorizing civic engagement and Social Media-the case of the ‘refugee crisis’ and volunteer organizing in Sweden (Uldam, 2019). In the context of Nepal, there are considerable numbers of public who are using internet. There are now 10.21 million internet users in Nepal until Jan 2020.  Social Media users are 10 million in Nepal until Jan 2020. Although, this is still 35%  out of the total population of Nepal (Kemp, 2020). There are still significant numbers of the populations out of the internet reach. So, social media movement integrated civic movement is out of the reach of larger populations of Nepal. Tech companies are using algorithms which tracks the contents that the users are interacting most. Then, these tech giants floats the similar interacted contents repeatedly in the internet for the business revenue development. Here, there are also associated risk of users interacting with politically motivated post or violence. This has been seen the US election of 2020. Although, Facebook has developed community standard guidelines but this seems limited.  Secondly, unequal power relations is also growing due to  increment in social media driven civic movement. Mostly such movements are becoming urban centric and the content floating in the social media walls are controlled by the big media houses of Nepal.  Thirdly, youth using social media for slacktivism or entertainment purpose is also uneven. Mostly, underrepresented youth uses social media for showcasing solidarity on common issues. For instance, black social media users are interested in social media sites to share their views on the issues that matters them most comparing to white i.e. 54% vs 39% (Monica Anderson, 2018).

Finally, all movements are meant to change the existing discourse. But, this doesn’t always necessarily happens. More explicitly, social media platforms are controlled by neoliberals and it is fair enough to say that these platforms promote neo-liberal economic agenda, liberalism or free speech. Rather, it ultimately construct content for those who ‘controls’ that content making conditions.  Such groups are largely silent on the up-gradation of the grassroots rather focus on revenue generation. In specific countries, government do surveillance for the purpose to do policing the contents that they are more interested in floating in the social media walls. In the country like Nepal, cyber cells of different political parties are defending their agendas and leaders blindly without any strong logic; resulting to the control of narratives or discourse in the hand of few elites. For example in the case of the Citizenship Act; which was put forward by the presidential ordinance resulted to the biased comments on social media against Madhesis (Jha, 2020). This biased comments ultimately helps in building anti-Madhesi discourse; which becomes counterproductive for nations-state building. So, revisit to social media driven civic movement is necessary.

Saurav Raj Pant
Saurav Raj Pant
PhD. Student of International Relations & Diplomacy of Tribhuvan University, Nepal


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