Organizing With Self-Organization?: The Ramifications of the Strategic Use of Facebook in Informal Civic Activism

Organizing With Self-Organization?: The Ramifications of the Strategic Use of Facebook in Informal Civic Activism

Rui Alexandre Novais
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-7472-3.ch005
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This chapter aims at exploring the ramifications of the strategic usage of Facebook in informal civic activism against the yet-to-be-studied case of an African third wave democratic country. Focusing on the emergence of Sokols up to the unprecedented 2017 street demonstration in Cape Verde, it reviews findings from a multidimensional empiric-holistic method that addresses the associated role of Facebook. The study confirms the existence of a heterarchical and distributed leadership alongside a horizontal and collaborative decision-making arrangement in a Facebook-mediated civic activism movement. While corroborating the tendency of grassroots activism in adopting a hybrid blend of online and offline, it concludes that Facebook was used in support of the largely self-organized Sokols movement and the loosely structured street demonstration held in São Vicente. However, besides not necessarily changing the fundamental structures of the civic activism movement—including organization, leadership, decision-making and protest staging—Facebook only supplemented the offline practices.
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It is generally accepted that the internet and its associated new media technologies have impacted upon activism in general (Ems, 2014; Bennett & Segerberg, 2012; Bimber, Flanagin & Stohl, 2005; Tsatsou, 2018; Valenzuela, Correa & Gil de Zúñiga, 2017). The form, the intensity, and the outcome of online media usage and influence in civic activism, however, are not consensual issues amongst academics. Indeed, not only the role of online media in citizen activism has delivered fragmented and inconsistent insights (for a recent review see Tsatsou & Zhao, 2016), but also several related criticisms can be put forward regarding previous studies concerning in particular civic activism and the associated role of social networks.

There is a frequent overlapping and undifferentiated usage in the literature of concepts often associated with civic activism, such as ‘movements’ (Coretti & Pica, 2015, e.g.), ‘collective action’ (Bimber et al. 2005, e.g.) and ‘social movements’ (Harlow 2012, e.g.). This is arguable since neither all social movements are necessarily involved in civic activism nor informal civic activisms are associated with pre-existing purposeful and organized groups or social movements. Thus, a better alternative way to overcome such confusion is by proposing a civic activism movement notion per se and employing it consistently throughout the chapter.

Another finger-pointing possibility, closely linked to the previous one, regards the scarce attention granted to either the circumstances of the life cycle of the civic activism movements (Blumer, 1969; Tarrow, 1998; Tilly, 1978, e.g.) or the considerations about their orientation. Indeed, identifying and distinguishing the different stages in the life cycle of civic activism movements - how they emerge, grow, and in some cases, die out - would allow to more accurately distinguish informal from organized movements. To further differentiate informal (civic activism) from organized (social) movements, the autonomous orientation that entails “self-management, egalitarian, nonhierarchical structures, and consensus-based decision making” should be contrasted with the institutionalized orientation characterized by “a clear division of labor and authority, a centralized organization, and a loose coupling of ends and means” (Pruijt & Roggeband, 2014, p.145).

The third criticism relates to the fact that studies on civic activism movements do not habitually address in detail the organizational ramifications of the usage of social networks (Juris, 2012; Mercea, 2013).

A final faultfinding concerns the often tendency of lumping together within the same umbrella (of the information and communication technologies or the internet) very different applications with diverse uses and functions in terms of civic digital activism (Gladarev & Lonkila, 2012).

Against that background, this chapter aims to make an empirical contribution to the subfield of literature on the social media and civic activism against the yet to be studied case of an African third wave democratic country. Focusing on a specific civic activism movement - the digital native Sokols from its inception or emergence to the coalescence phase in preparation first manifestation - and the July 2017 street march in Cape Verde - it reviews findings from a multidimensional empiric-holistic method.

This is done with the dual purpose of assessing a relevant under-explored example of informal organization of a civic activism movement and the ramifications of the associated role of social media (Polanska & Chimiak, 2016; Tsatsou, 2018).

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