The Slowly Burning Embers of Social Media Revolutions
Earlier this month I wrote on what makes a movement sticky. Today’s food for thought are movements that were less sticky. Those that suffer from being out of sight, out of mind, and generally losing their steam. What makes me the most curious is what a reasonable expectation should be for engagement across any particular movement in an online medium where there is so much competing for our attention.
Tomorrow I’m having lunch with a friend who is in town after having had moved to Paris last year. I plan on asking him lots of things like; how he’s been, how’s the family, how’s his new job, and if he’s been protesting? French citizens have been demonstrating this disapproval of their government raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 and I’m curious to hear his insight on the matter. However, this protest isn’t something that I’ve thought much of since it began as I’ve instead been focused on the safety of my LGBTQ+ friends in Florida, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, and the reemergence of the relevance of the response to the Uvalde school shootings. All the while I’m doing academic research on Black Lives Matters and other movements for how sticky they once were. Thus, upon my mind is the harsh reality of how many important movements can possibly compete for our brain space?
During the height of The Arab Spring social media movement there were stages of engagement that can be broken down by spoken language and location. Bruns et al. 2013 in their article “The Arab Spring and Social Media Audiences: English and Arabic Twitter Users and Their Networks” referred to The Arab Spring as having a hashtag hot phase. It’s not surprising that a hashtag such as #Jan25 would become decreasingly relevant as the date comes and goes. Hashtags like #egypt and #libya are broad, not quite capturing the intent in the same way as a hashtag like #NoAngel did.
What’s important to take away from this, however, may not be so obvious at first glance. I think that to boil every movement down to being analyzed as being marketable is too short-sighted. Social media activism has the power to still, in the words of Bruns et al., “document and discuss”. Their article shares an interesting perspective into the locals in Libya and Egypt using Twitter to differing levels of importance for stoking the fires of revolution compared to outsiders looking in. What matters is social media activism being an available tool should it help a cause watching closely as Libya and Egypt attempt to restrict access; which is why it’s ever the more important to ensure access to these tools with net neutrality prioritized— a topic I’ll be addressing coming in my next academic paper.