Stick It to the Man: How the Web Spurs Political Change

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Egypt: February 2011

Tahrir Square, February 8, 2011; photo credit: Flickr user Mona.
Tahrir Square, February 8, 2011; photo credit: Flickr user Mona.
The success of the 2011 Egyptian revolution in overthrowing President Hosni Mubarak was ultimately decided in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, and other Egyptian cities, but online activism definitely played a role in the protests. Activists used Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to help organize protests for the uprising that began on January 25, 2011, according to the New York Times.

The Internet was such a concern for the regime that the government shut down the majority of the country's Internet access for about five days during the protests.

Activism: Wildly effective

Russia's Wintertime "Spring": Winter 2011/2012

Moscow rally, December 24, 2011; photo credit: Bogomolov.PL.
Moscow rally, December 24, 2011; photo credit: Bogomolov.PL.
Russian citizens are using Facebook and other online venues to oppose Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's bid to regain the Russian presidency. Putin is widely expected to win a third term as Russia's president in the March 4 elections, succeeding his own successor Dmitry Medvedev.

Online activists managed to raise $129,000 to stage an antigovernment protest on December 24, complete with a sound system, video displays, and portable toilets, according to the Wall Street Journal. A second protest is planned for February 4, one month before Russia's presidential election.

Activism: Effective

Occupy Movement: Fall 2011-Present

Zucotti Park, New York City, November 2, 2011; photo credit: David Shankbone.
Zucotti Park, New York City, November 2, 2011; photo credit: David Shankbone.
In October, protesters around the globe latched onto the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City as a vehicle for speaking out against social inequality. Groups in the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Canada, and many nations across Europe followed New York's lead and staged their own Occupy protests. The global reach of the movement was credited, at least in part, to its use of social media such as Twitter and Facebook to encourage global participation, according to the UK's Guardian newspaper.

Digital tools may not create and sustain change on their own, but we'll surely be seeing more tweets, Facebook posts, and YouTube videos with revolutionary themes for years to come.

Activism: Effective

Social Change With Digital Tools

Some people question whether digital tools are effective in bringing about social change.

Digital activism critic Evgeny Morozov is well known for arguing that the Internet also serves as an effective tool for oppression, and he cautions against giving too much credit to digital tools as a force for bringing people together.

Similarly, author Malcolm Gladwell criticizes digital activism, arguing that it does not facilitate the commitment that street-level protests require for success.

Professor Megan Boler, University of Toronto.
Professor Megan Boler, University of Toronto.
But Megan Boler, a professor of media and education at the University of Toronto, says that critics shouldn't be too quick to dismiss social media. She points to such recent effective use of digital tools as stirring public outrage over videos of police brutality on the University of California, Davis campus; Twitter posts broadcasting live updates from Occupy movements; and this week's SOPA/PIPA online protests.

"What mobile digital and social media are providing is radically changing the capacity for global social movements," Boler told PCWorld. "The integration of social media and in-the-streets protest is a new and hybrid 'form' of social protest, with potential we only begin to envision."

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