Tweeting towards collective action

The Medium explores the contribution of social media platforms towards initiating mobilization

Last weekend, thousands of people around the United States and the world paraded through the streets for the 2018 Women’s March. When the first Women’s March occurred last year, expressing outrage against the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump, many of us wondered if this was a momentary event that would eventually fizzle out. With the fizzle-fanning mobilization across the world, The Medium analyzes how protests have gained momentum through the past year.

Following Trump’s election, social media feeds were filled with expressions of resentment and disbelief. According to a 2018 article by Farhad Manjoo from The New York Times titled “Social media’s globe shaking power,” social media has empowered people “to express their grievances and to follow people they see as echoing their grievances.” Some analysts also believe that Trump’s presence on social media influenced the 2016 election results.

Viewing the movement from a historical lens, in a 2012 paper by UTM political science professor Dr. Spyridon Kotsovilis, titled “Six Degrees of Revolution: Political Networks, Diffusion Mechanisms and Mobilization in Collective Action Against Competitive Authoritarian Regimes,” the professor explains how irrespective of whether the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe and Soviet Union constitutes a third or a fourth wave of democracy, “The political events that marked the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century were nothing short of seismic.” From that perspective, the collective action and resulting democratizing revolutions have had similar organizational, relational features, such as a collective leadership and domestic and transnational links that can be detected in the operations of the civil resistance group. Although western politics between 2017 and 2018 has not seen civil resistance, as analysts for The New York Times argue, it is perhaps not a coincidence that the 2018 Women’s Marches occurred on the one-year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration.

Social media and messaging applications have also emerged to be a key source of information for protesting groups to coordinate. As Manjoo argues in his New York Times argues, everyone has a smartphone and everyone is connected to at least one social network. People tweet and post Instagram photos and take videos of events as they are happening. This age of citizen journalism, as Manjoo explains, focuses on presenting reality, making sure the issues are shared with their networks, and are not brushed under the carpet by specific media sources.

Part of the power of social media, Manjoo argues, lies in its ability to reach a large audience.

That too, in a short period of time. This helps fuel these marches and allows people to mobilize and organize protests in dozens of locations. The Women’s March of 2017 took place in New York City, Toronto, Ottawa, London, and Paris, to name a few. In October 2017, #MeToo went viral in response to the allegations against Harvey Weinstein to demonstrate the scale of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. In January 2018, the formation of Time’s Up was announced on New Years day, and again, went viral on social media. While these social media movements were at the core of the 2018 Women’s March, the action against the detainment of Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi, and the Justice for Soli campaign closer to home here in Toronto, these movements, as Manjoo argues in his New York Times 2017 article titled “The Alt-Majority: How Social Networks Empowered Mass Protests Against Trump,” go beyond meanings of only sexual assault or detainment, and hope to incite support for women’s rights, immigration rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and rights of many more marginalized groups.

But what happens after the march? What happens after you post the photo on Instagram? According to UTM sociology professor David Pettinicchio, about the effectiveness of protests, “For mobilization to be successful, it requires thinking about long-term and short-term goals and objectives.” It’s important to consider what these marches are actually about and what people expect to happen as a result. Pettinicchio also suggests that in order for a protest to be truly successful, we have to remain involved and engaged in the issues that these movements focus on, as well as the political process; which as he states, is not just a one-day event.

In a world where what’s news one minute fizzles out thirty minutes later when a new story breaks and goes viral, the consistency of these protests reminds us that it is important to continue our focus on these issues and not forget about things that happened a week ago if we want to see positive results that last.