Since the beginning of time, calls for social action have paved the way for communities to come together for change. The mode of communication for thousands of years was by word of mouth from person-to-person which severely limited how quickly news could spread. It wasn’t until the rise of the telegraph that messages could suddenly reach someone on the other side of the country in minutes. Citizen-led political movements are not uncommon, but social media has allowed grassroots movements to organize and mobilize at the click of a mouse. Numerous studies have explored the relationship between social media and political action. Here are a few examples:
The Role of Social Media in Political Mobilisation: a Case Study of the January 2011 Egyptian Uprising by Madeline Storck
This particular study explored the impact that Facebook and Twitter had on the successful Egyptian Uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak from the Egyptian Presidency on February 11, 2011 after decades of ruling Egypt as a military dictator. The Middle East has long been a region where civilians have had difficulty in organizing political change on the ground outside of a ruling minority. Although there had been opposition to Mubarak’s reign from the first days that he took power on October 11, 1981 it wasn’t until the rise of social media that members of the opposition had the ability to communicate without having to worry about a police crackdown on their meetings.
Storck explains that people in Egypt had long felt disenfranchised, but that it wasn’t until the opposition started a group called The people want the fall of the regime that everyday people (who wouldn’t normally be the kind to protest) joined the thousands at Tahrir Square. Although the government would attempt to block access to social media, the masses had already organized. Although social media helps people organize, there had been political movements long before Facebook. Facebook and Twitter are merely new tools to connect people to a common goal.
Political Fandom in the Age of Social Media: Case Study of Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential Campaign by Komal H. Parikh
This study explored how President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign used social media effectively to rally young voters around progressive ideas resulting in a Obama victory. 66 percent of the 23 million voters aged 18-29 voted for Obama in the 2008 election. Although social media had been in its infancy during the 2000 and 2004 elections, it wasn’t until 2008 that social media (i.e. Facebook) existed in the form that we enjoy today. While older demographics consistently vote year after year, younger voters have a habit of not bothering to cast their votes despite being just as opinionated as anyone else in the community.
Parikh explains that voters who were interviewed during the course of her study felt especially receptive to the Obama campaign’s decision to utilize social media to connect with voters who enjoyed having the ability to share campaign information with their friends through a form of viral marketing. Just as John F. Kennedy understood that looking good on television was essential to winning in 1960, so too did Obama when it came to using the Internet to his advantage. As Election 2016 goes into full swing, candidates now understand that social media is an effective way to rally supporters on the grassroots level.
Social Media for Social Change: A Case Study of Social Media Use in the 2011 Egyptian Revolution by Caroline S. Sheedy
As mentioned before, the Egyptian Uprising of 2011 has brought a lot of attention to social media’s place in social change. This study looks at the trends involving the use of social media to bring awareness to social issues including the 2008 Mumbai Attack, the 2009 Iranian Green Movement and the 2010 Haitian Earthquake in addition to the Egyptian Uprising. Of note, it also acknowledges some of the negative impacts that social media using during political activities can bring to those involved.
Sheedy explained that although it is true that social media accounts were used positively by regular citizens, attempts to spread misinformation were prevalent in many grassroots movement situations. This highlights the reality that special care must taken while using social media to organize to make sure that efforts are not subverted by those who would manipulate posts for negative purposes.