Exploring the Role of Facebook Pages During the Mass Student Protest for Road Safety in Bangladesh

Exploring the Role of Facebook Pages During the Mass Student Protest for Road Safety in Bangladesh

Shahla Shahnaz Dyuti
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/IJSMOC.2020070104
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The mass student protest for road safety in Bangladesh started in the capital city Dhaka after the death of two students by a road accident. Focusing on the event during 2018, this paper analyses the comments and memes of selected Facebook pages to find out the reactions by netizens towards the protest. Although there are several studies based on protest and social media in different nations, in Bangladesh it remains an under-researched field. Data were collected from four selected public Facebook pages using the thematic analysis method. Through the analysis of the data, it became clear that netizens wanted to express their feelings and thoughts freely in this open space as new media offers them an almost censor-free platform. The findings contribute to understanding how social media plays a role in providing an open platform of freedom of expression.
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Introduction And Background Of The Study

Nowadays, the world is experiencing an era of digital communication. Apart from mainstream media, social or digital media are gaining public support and popularity. These types of media help to spread important information, videos, recordings and documents within a moment. According to Gerbaudo, “the importance of the struggle for public space in contemporary social movements invites us to rethink the way in which we understand the role of new media and social media in particular” (2012, p. 11). As the raw data is written by the participants themselves, they can be directly accessed from the social media platform, eliminating the potential bias of eliminating or adding data in traditional interview transcription etc. (Halaweh, 2018; Hewson et al., 2016). Like some other countries, Bangladesh is no exception to the global trend of the youth movement, as was most observable during the protest for road safety, that overwhelmed the entire country. Most importantly it was the very first contemporary massive protest by teenage students in this country which had been taken into account by various international media.

In Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, two high school students were killed by a speedy unlicensed bus on 29 July 2018. After the killing, thousands of students mostly in their mid-teens (The Guardian, 2018) poured into the street demanding justice for the incident. The protest then spread outside Dhaka. During the protest, students kept the highways blocked and checked the valid license of all public, private transports. Gradually many people of various age groups started demonstrating solidarity and joined with the pupils and also numerous citizens including the protestors were posting updates on social media. The demand for improved road safety protest was held from 29 July to 7 August 2018. At that time traditional media houses did not publish all the updates of the protest but Facebook and other forms of social media did. To quell the protest Bangladesh police and security forces launched a massive crackdown on protesters. In that protest social media, particularly Facebook, played a key role in raising support by letting the netizens comment on news-related posts, posting schedules of meetings, work plans and encouraged people to join with the protesters. Simultaneously, this platform was also reportedly used to spread rumours and misinformation, including false reports of students being raped and killed (Mahmud, 2018).

This study explored the role that was played by Facebook pages by analysing comments and memes posted on the protest-related videos of two news media pages and two satire pages. All these pages were generated from Bangladesh and all data related to the protest were collected and analysed in the three months. The main aim was to find out netizen’s tendency to say whatever they think in this media that has freedom of expression by studying their comments and memes. By analysing the data through thematic analysis method, this study identifies five themes that have been posted frequently by netizens: - movement support; strong demand for safer roads and punishment; the reflection of dissatisfaction with the government; Facebook as a platform for dissenting views; Facebook as a tool to spread rumours. An important point to be noted is that this research did not study the activity by the protesters either offline or online, but rather tried to identify and analyse the characteristics of the online posts (comments and memes).

Young people will determine the future of a country and its system, so it is important to gain an in-depth understanding of their engagement in social protest on serious national issues like road accidents. There has been previous research led on student movements or student participation in a mass movement and its association with social media in different nations between 2008-2015. Among them, the following examples are- The Candlelight protests in South Korea (Chang and Yun, 2011); The South African Student Movement (Millham, 2016); The Sunflower Movement in Taiwan (Lin, 2015) and The Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong (Li and Suh, 2015). Except for Millhams’ (2016), none of these studies had a specific focus on the reactions (comments or memes) in social media toward the students and their protest. However, as there is no literature on the student movement for safer roads in Bangladesh and youth participation in social protest is prominent in different countries, it is important to build work and expand scholarly knowledge of this contemporary phenomenon.

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