Empowerment and Fragility

Zeynep Tufecki’s book, Twitter and Tear Gas, is an insightful analysis of the impact of social media on protests and social movements in today’s radically networked societies.

Most of the commentary about the role of social media in creating political communities either glorifies these media platforms (think Arab spring) or vilifies them for their propensity to spread fake news and to create echo chambers (think Trump’s election campaign). Zeynep Tufecki’s book, Twitter and Tear Gas, however, provides a much-needed nuanced analysis on how digital platforms have altered the way in which a social movement’s dynamics plays out. With the aim of understanding the challenges and strengths of digital activism, Tufecki tells a fascinating story of how social media empowers protests while simultaneously also exacerbating the fragilities of these movements.

It is well known by now that the primary strength of networked public protests is the speed with which large number of people and resources can be mobilised. This is because social media makes it easy to find people who share your political viewpoints even across geographical boundaries. What is not obvious, however, is that the speed and ease of participation also becomes a weakness of the networked movements. This is because ad hoc planning doesn’t allow for building capacities among protesters, which is needed to sustain a movement in the long-term. Often this results in the networked movements facing a tactical freeze in the face of changing circumstances.

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