Networked Protests: A Review of Social Movement Literature and the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement (2017)

Networked Protests: A Review of Social Movement Literature and the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement (2017)

Emily Stacey (Rose State College, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-4197-4.ch020
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This chapter explores social movement theories and attempts to modernize and explain contemporary movements with consideration of the digital tools being utilized by citizens on the ground. The ability to transcend borders and traditional boundaries using digital media, to facilitate international participation and develop communication, and the dissemination of information and coordination among activist networks around the world is hugely important. This chapter asserts that modern contentious collective actions and contemporary movements have received an infusion of autonomy and grassroots energy fueled by digital technologies, and social networking platforms.
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Social Movement Theory: Traditional To Digital

Social movement theorists have recognized the significant transition in the discursive patterns and organizational aspects of collective action (i.e.: social movements) brought about by the rise of digital technologies and proliferation of tools such as social media platforms (Castells, 2009, 2012; Tilly, 2003, 2004; Etling, Faris, & Palfrey, 2010; Murthy, 2012; Hill, 2013). There is a lack of comprehensive research on the impact of the digital (or post-digital) tools that are being used by modern protest actors to spread awareness and ideology, and most importantly, to mobilize support for their cause. Karatzogianni’s “cyberconflict theory” (2001) is an attempt to reconcile collective action events in the digital realm by investigating the underlying context of not only the event, but the nation, culture and society in which the event is occurring. She argues, “In new social movements, the internet linked diverse communities such as labour, feminist, ecological, peace and anti-capitalist groups, with the aim of challenging public opinion and battling for media access and coverage” (Karatzogianni, 2015, p. 15).

This article asserts that contentious collective action and contemporary movements have received an infusion of autonomy and grassroots energy that has been fueled by the internet, digital technologies, and more notably, social networking platforms. Or as Arquilla and Ronfeldt (2001) note, new social movements or contemporary collective action are increasingly dependent on shared knowledge (ideology, goals, messages of movement) and the use of soft power (discursive opportunities that are promulgated from the bottom-up). This adoption of the digital has led to the increasing detachment of movement networks from traditional organizational structures (NGOs, political parties, the State) that focus on resource mobilization and hierarchical forms of power toward more bottom-up, actor-oriented and coordinated protest organizations. Karatzogianni (2015, p. 18) notes that the adoption of digital technologies by activist organizations made “possible mass mobilization without leaders – a digital swarm, by allowing mobilization to emerge from free-willing, amorphous groups, rather than top-down hierarchies”. While Papacharissi also highlights that the “logic of connective action is reflective of contemporary reluctance to associate with formal organizations and the gradual prevalence of large-scale, fluid social networks over group ties” (2015, p. 70).

Social movements are a distinctive form of contentious politics that involve actors making collective claims to social or political action (or inaction), which if realized, would conflict with someone else’s interests; the generally accepted definition of politics denotes the existence of winners and losers, in protest it is the same. Politically, the government factor into the claim-making process, whether as claimants, objects of claims, allies of the objects or monitors of contention (Tilly, 2004, P. 3). It is widely accepted that social movements establish organizations, recruit participants, craft messages, foster collective solidarities, gain publicity, and mount campaigns in order to confront an opponent (Della Porta, 2009). Thus, social movement research is often based upon the assumption that parties engaged in conflict “act instrumentally with respect to their goals and strategically towards each other with the outcome dependent on the balance of power among the relationships” (Johnston, 2009, P. 105).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Influencer Hierarchy (Sociopolitical): A structure of discourse where popularity or de facto leadership is associated with the loudest voices or the most retweeted, reposted, or re-disseminated communications/content from an individual or group of individuals who may ‘lead’ in the emergence and mobilization phases of a movement.

FireChat: Mobile phone application using Bluetooth technology to connect users within a certain area without using the internet, meaning their devices communicate directly with one another. The application was developed with the intentions of use at music festivals but was widely disseminated in the Hong Kong Umbrella movement of 2014 as a communication device.

Digital Technologies: Technologies that are able to connect to the internet, smart devices, tools that are mobile and provide users with email, SMS (text), internet and social media applications.

Umbrella Movement (2014): Political movement in Hong Kong occurring in 2014, in which protestors occupied the business sector of the city and disrupted the status quo for 75 days, demanding electoral reform and more choice in their governance.

Protest Camp: A collection of tents and citizens protesting in a public square for an extended period of time. Camps typically include health care/medical facilities, food supplies, and in modern times, internet access.

Networked Public Sphere: A communal area of life where global citizens come together to deliberate political, social, economic and cultural issues in a digital realm, for example, on a Facebook page or in a Twitter conversation.

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