[-empyre-] Part 1: Social Media Use across Campaigns for Social Justice

mrahul at sas.upenn.edu mrahul at sas.upenn.edu
Thu Dec 11 01:51:08 EST 2014

Hi All,

The discussion on Empyre about social media and social justice has  
been moving and invigorating. At a recent Media Activism conference I  
attended at Penn, scholars and activists reminded us that without  
being platform-centric, we must first pay attention to how social  
movement organizers use media in different contexts. That said, the  
conference participants also noted that different platforms offer  
different affordances, and hence their specificity needs to be  
attended to. Finally, information sharing while organizing or  
promoting a social justice campaign rarely happens through just one  
social media platform, so tracing cross-platform flows of rumor and  
news is crucial. Along with flows, Tim and Renate invite us to think  
of interfaces (and algorithms supporting them), and their  
contributions to social struggle. Keeping these four dimensions in  
mind, I offer brief vignettes from three campaigns/movements for  
social change in India and their use of social media. I have been  
interacting with journalists and activists engaged in environmental  
debates in India, and for some of the stories that follow, I draw from  
their insights. The post is in two parts.

Unprecedented use of Twitter was seen during the street protests in  
New Delhi in late December 2012 following the gang rape of a 23 year  
old woman, Nirbhaya, in the Indian capital. Protestors called for  
proper functioning of police and the judicial system. A stream of live  
tweets?many including images through Twitpic?captured (documented) the  
protests and police brutality on protestors. Since the administration  
restricted subway service from suburbs to the city center (Raisina  
Hill, India Gate), where the protests unfolded, the protestors used  
social media to co-ordinate ways of reaching protest sites. The  
successful use of Twitter owed much to the urban middle-class  
character of protests and it did matter that the public spaces of  
protest were in New Delhi, often the cynosure for ?mainstream? media  
as well.

The use of social media is somewhat different if we consider the  
People?s Movement against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) in India. The uranium  
mines and construction sites of nuclear reactors are in rural areas,  
and thus incidents of police repression against local communities and  
anti-nuke agitators often take place in rural locations. Following the  
Fukushima catastrophe, amidst protests by nearby fishermen about the  
effects of increasing radiation levels on their lives and livelihood,  
construction work at the Koodankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu  
(South India) came to a halt in September, 2011. Soon after, police  
atrocities began. There were live tweets from Koodankulam, but  
Facebook groups formed by PMANE  were more active than Twitter,  
according to activists I conversed with. Facebook offered a wider  
space for local fishermen and fisherwomen groups to express themselves  
in their language Tamil. Another popular tactic for local community  
members in Koodankulam was smsing (texting) metropolitan activists (in  
cities like Delhi and Chennai) about fasting events and police firing,  
which were then timestamped and put on advocacy blogs and websites  
such as Chai Kadai and DiaNuke.org (for some time, electricity supply  
in the Koodankulam region was also cut off). This circulation on  
various social media platforms lead to both established media houses  
as well as civil society members highlighting the issue and calling on  
administrators to take action.

                                   [End of Part I]

Rahul Mukherjee
Assistant Professor, Television and New Media Studies
Cinema Studies Program, Department of English
University of Pennsylvania

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