Political activism in an age of social media
For thousands of youth in Egypt, their smartphones and laptops were also used to connect with friends, except for something much bigger: overthrowing their government.
Through tweets, Facebook and blog posts, they attempted to communicate about the crisis facing them from then-President Hosni Mubarak, who had been in power for almost 30 years.
“I would say the biggest example of using technology for political activism has to be Egypt,” professor of political science Joseph Rudolph said. “There was use of technology to get hundreds of people to gather at Tahrir Square night after night to protest.”
While the United States is not in a state of crisis like the Middle Eastern countries, Rudolph said Americans will use technology to spread their particular causes, whether it be marriage equality, immigration reform or Tea Party activism.
“All it requires is a small group with access to a stage to protest,” he said. “It will take society time to adapt and realize how technology can be used to allow transparency. Technology ultimately changes the nature of society, and we are only just getting into the potential of this age of technology.”
Samantha Hubbard, director of diversity outreach for the Student Government Association, said that while digital support of campaigns can be important, it’s not meant to be the only form of activism, especially for operations like DREAM movement, which Hubbard is a part of.
The DREAM movement promotes laws such as the recently introduced Federal DREAM Act and immigration reform in America.
“There’s a huge organization called ‘United We Dream, and they do exactly what other student rights groups do, they organize,” Hubbard said. “They use all forms organizing. They do grassroots, and they also do digital. Grassroots is the same for most people, it’s basically door-to-door canvassing.”
Hubbard said that both grassroots and digital communication have their advantages.
“If you’re part of the undocumented movement, grassroots in great, but you will need digital,” she said. “I wouldn’t necessarily think that the people who organize on the ground work harder than people who organize via digital because you can only reach so many people canvassing on the ground.”
Hubbard said that the movement uses social networks to share the events of grassroots protests.
When she visited Los Angeles this summer on an internship, and marched on the borders in support of immigration reform, CNN interviewed her.
“And you put that picture up, people are like ‘wow, the media is taking them seriously, maybe we should take them seriously,” she said.
As the 2012 Presidential Election draws near, America’s youth are not using the technology they possess for advanced political purposes, according to Rudolph.
“We become more fascinated with technology itself than the potential of the technology,” Rudolph said. “People want to posses it more than use it, and go out and get the next best thing, and at some point you reach a technology saturation point.”
Sports management major Josh Black said he uses technology solely for personal use.
“It’s [politics] not really too interesting at this point,” Black said. “When I’m a little older maybe I’ll care more. I should care more.”
Sociology major Bryant Coleman said he only uses technology to stay updated on current events and keeps him knowledgeable on United States politics.
“I’d say I’m a bit more into politics than the average student,” Coleman said. “I watch at lot of MSNBC and follow stories on CNN.com and the Huffington Post. I like to know what’s going on in politics because it’s about the people who run the country. I’m interested in the dueling ideologies and how they’re falsely fought in the name of the American people.”
Over time, Rudolph said the American population will learn how to use technology to increase awareness of politics and current events.
“This technology comes with a responsibility and it’s not just about having it for fun,” he said. “Over time, you’ll see more people becoming informed, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”
- Allison Brickell and Jeremy Bauer-Wolf contributed to this article