Power and peril of Twitter revolutions

2015-11-25 06:22
Qondile Khedama, Social Commentator Foto:

Qondile Khedama, Social Commentator Foto:

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THE power of social media was first witnessed in 2011 during the Egyptian uprising, which, as a result, was nicknamed The Twitter Revolution.

While the triggers of revolution were vast, no one doubts or questions the fact that social media played a major role.

It united the youth of Egypt and also helped them with organising and coordinating the protests against the government.

Through Twitter, even people outside of Egypt got wind of the protests, and had updated information as and when things happened.

In the Ukraine, not long after the Egypt incident, an explicit video of a young girl, Oksana Makar, who had been brutally attacked, raped and left to die, went viral. The video showed not only the brutality of the attack, but more importantly, injustices by the administration when the attackers were released.

Another video was released, in which Oksana named her attackers, and it also went viral.

Subsequent to the video leaks, protests ensued where civilians called for the perpetrators to be arrested again.

Here at home, the power of social media was recently witnessed with the ­#FeesMustFall campaign.

In just a matter of days, we saw the movement shoot up from being concentrated at the universities of the Witwatersrand and Cape Town, to spreading to most institutions of higher learning in the entire country.

Despite the effectiveness of social media campaigns, as a society there are a number of questions to ponder on.

One is the outcome of the Egyptian revolution.

Considering the manner in which the campaign was conducted, no discussion ensued after the changes that happened in government.

Also, what are the lessons that can be drawn from the campaigns that have been lodged on social media?

Lastly, what is the risk associated with inaccurate information being spread and picked up by traditional media through social media networks?

The risks are certainly great and Twitter’s 140 character limit, for example, makes them even greater.

As Twitter may be great for sharing links to websites, opinion pieces and blogs, you may have a wealth of information on a subject – it is, however, still hard to make a good substantial argument in 140 characters.

As a result, there is little room for context and cyber activism without context could be extremely harmful.

One of the challenges that come with these new technologies is that we seem to have abandoned the discipline or forgotten the meaning of activism.

Historically, civil rights movements were structured through discipline, strategy and a hierarchical approach.

This means that discipline would be inculcated in those who would be taking part in the protest.

The protest would have a hierarchy.

It would be led by a leadership with a clearly crafted strategy on what it is they were expecting as an outcome.

Those engaging in the protest would engage with a clear conscience of what it was they were protesting for.

The moment one protester deviates from the strategy and responds to provocation, the moral legitimacy of the entire protest would be compromised.

The mobilisation through social media by students bore fruit in the sense that everybody was conscious and all those affected responded positively.

The fundamental value added by social media networks is that instead of news being delivered from the lens of established media institutions, which may have their own biases and selective news delivery, it is being delivered by people on the ground and on a mass scale.

It has also been an effective tool for organising and getting more people involved in a short space of time.

Social media platforms as provided are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient.

They must not be seen or used as a natural enemy of administrations or of the status quo.

Rather, they should be regarded as tools that seek to improve dialogues among authorities and citizens of the world in an endeavour to improve people’s lives.

  • Qondile Khedama is a communications practitioner, social commentator and is currently Mangaung Metro’s head of communications. He writes in his personal capacity.

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