The Pamphlet Meets API: An Overview of Social Movements in the Age of Digital Media

The Pamphlet Meets API: An Overview of Social Movements in the Age of Digital Media

Emily Stacey (Swansea University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8502-4.ch001
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This chapter explores traditional social movement theory 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 the internet, digital technologies, and social networking platforms using Applied Programming Interface (API). Arab Spring movements in Egypt and Tunisia illustrate the use of social media within this emergent framework.
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This chapter outlines the recent literature in what is identified as two thematic areas (Social Movement Theory, Networked Mobilization) and the case study highlighted in The Arab Spring and Social Media section. This review provides a survey of the key literature in the field of social media, and also cognate areas are relevant to the thesis that digital technologies have changed what it means to conduct political protest (tactics, mobilization, participation). Only theorists crucial to constructing new theory are highlighted. Therefore, this is not meant to be a comprehensive review (For useful additional summaries of the literature see Aouragh & Alexander, 2011;Lovink, 2012; Etling, Faris & Palfrey, 2010; Howard, Hussain & Agarwal, 2010; Hussain & Howard, 2012).

This chapter explores scholarly work in social media in relation to claims that political and social dynamics have shifted with the introduction of new modes of communication. While it is clear that social networking sites (SNS), such as Twitter, Facebook and their international equivalents accompanied with mobile technologies deliver real-time streaming communication (see Berry, 2011; Murthy, 2012), there is some controversy as to how this plays out in particular contexts, political practice and activist organizations (see Morozov, 2009; Tilly, 1978, 2004). Strong claims are sometimes made about the potential for these technologies to facilitate citizen mobilization during politically advantageous events (Castells, 2009, 2012; Murthy, 2012). These claims vary from the technologically realistic viewpoint of Morozov (2009, 2011), Shanti and Boas (2003) and Wu (2011) to the more hopeful analysis of Castells (2009, 2012), and MacKinnon (2012). This chapter situates itself among the more deterministic side of technology, and more specifically, of social networking technologies. While it is understood and articulated throughout the chapter that technologies on their own are value-neutral agents, they have immense potential for social and political change when used by protest actors. Clearly, the social sciences and political science in particular must increasingly take into consideration new technologies and social networking technologies and their function in society. Indeed, these technologies are now so engrained in the fabric of everyday life that they are highly susceptible to being overlooked as individual actors in major international occurrences (see Berry, 2012). This is not to advocate that technologies are agents of change on their own, but it is worth noting that social networking technologies when used efficiently have proven that they can contribute to the coordination of mass dissent and production of (at least) short-term political change (Egypt, Tunisia, Iceland). However, it is imperative that simple notions of technological determinism are avoided. In this study, the assemblage of technical systems, made up of human and non-human actors with differing and contradictory forces and tendencies is carefully mapped in specific contexts.

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