THE NEW AGE OF VIRTUAL ACTIVISM 5
New Age of Virtual Activism
According to Fahmi (2009), the new geography of protest is anamalgamation of physical and virtual geography. Unlike before,protestors can now articulate their dissent using online means. Inwhat the writer refers to as ‘Hacktivists’ the new crop of socialactivists is made up of bloggers and hackers. Virtual geography hasalso taken the form of “networked social movements and hybridspaces of freedom” (p.4). This however does not imply thatactivists have abandoned their old ways of articulating issues.
Fahmi (2009) offers experiences from Egypt in order to make hisarguments. The country has been experiencing protests, boycotts anddemonstrations over a number of issues. These virtual activists visitthe scene of the demonstration to take pictures and conductinterviews. Later on, they post their findings on their blogs andmany visitors get the opportunity to view. Unlike the mainstreammedia that shows a short clip of the protests, the blogs give detailsof the proceedings. The virtual protests have reinforced thefunctionality of physical protests because more people become awareof the plight of the protestors. It is about these blogs that thedates for future activism activities are publicized.
The influence of the social media in activism is as a result of itsability to join people from different backgrounds into one cause.Fahmi (2009) attributes the importance of social media to its wideaudience. Street protests are good, but not good enough. Streetprotests will only feature a few people within the locality, thepolice, and if lucky, the media. More often than not, very few peopleknow the reason(s) behind the protests. Some join in for the fun ofit while others come under the invitation of their friends. However,social media has changed all that. Through blogging, cases of socialinjustices reach many people over a wide scope. Instances of policebrutality, government incompetence, harsh economic times and socialinjustices will reach many people- including the unaffected.
A relationship between space and politics was evident in the 2006pro-democracy rallies in Egypt. The protests took place at the CairoEuropean quarter. The space was contested between being a site forcollective action and a symbol of urban youth participation inpolitics (Fahmi, 2009). The Tahrir Square was a symbol of liberation,and was significant to the activism. The last time people hadprotested at the space was in 1972. When a group of young activistscalling themselves February 30th organized a sit- in atthe square in 2006, the venue was filled to capacity because of itssymbolic significance. Space mattered in this scenario because itrepresented the deep regard with which people held liberation. Itreminded them of how past generations had fought for liberation.
History of activism in Egypt dates back to 1981 when the governmentcame up with the emergency law (Fahmi, 2009). The draconian piece oflegislation prohibited the organization of public rallies or thedistribution of posters in the streets. The law was introduced bythen president Hosni Mubarak to trample any form of resistancetowards his regime. However, since there were no blogospheres duringthat time, the president did not ban them. Social media was (andstill is) important in Egypt from 2005 to 2011. Activists who weredenied the physical space for protests took to social media to airtheir grievances.
The blogosphere in Egypt was organized in such a manner that thebloggers also took part in street protests (Fahmi, 2009). Most of thebloggers were not just the normal people, but also journalists. Theycould take pictures and write stories regarding the protests on theirblogs. In the end, social media led to the great revolution that ledto the ousting of the tyrant, Hosni Mubarak. The narrative thatsocial media led to the overthrowing of Mubarak is in the advantageof social media. It shows that social media is not only a tool forleisure, but can also be used in liberation.
Shaw has a different perspective of social media activism. While manysee it as a tool for lazy activists that want to play it safe, Shaw(2013) sees many opportunities in social media for the modern daycivil society. The writer notes that protest activity has been inplace for decades, but it has not been stirring any change. Maybe itis time for new tactics, other than the old ones. Social mediareaches many people, even those who are not interested in thesubject. For instance, if the protest activity is about gay rights,it will only attract people who have an interest in the matter.However, on the social media platform, many people who had nointerest in the matter can get the chance to join in.
In conclusion, Shaw (2013) says that activists should have theconfidence to bring social change in today’s age. Despite being inthe 21st Century, too many social injustices still prevailin our society. Shaw urges activists to use every means to fightinjustice. He however makes it clear that he does not violate thenumber one rule of activism- media coverage alone is not enough.Using both old and new methods of fighting for justice, I think thecurrent crop of activists has a shot in bringing social justice.
Fahmi W.S., (2009). Bloggers` street movement and the right to thecity. (Re)claiming Cairo`s real andvirtual “spaces of freedom”.Environment and urbanization 21(89).
Shaw, R., (2013). The Internet and Social Media: Maximizing thePower of Online Activism,” in the Activists Handbook. Berkeley:University of California Press