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Student Protests Social Media

Student Protests transformed by Social Media

January 24, 2011

Organising big events involving members of the public from all over the world has been transformed by social media.

In particular social media has become a powerful tool for organising protests and broadcasting responses to government policies. Discussing the student protests with my daughter who is currently in year 2 at University, I thought it would be useful for us to write about the protests which took place in the last few months of 2010 as they were noticeably affected by social media. Messages were spread to a wider audience and in particular, the voices of the public were spread rather than purely the voices of authority, or of news reporters.

Students were able to defend the accusations that the violence and abuse was wholly on the student’s side by uploading images or footage of scenes that showed otherwise, for example the footage of Jody McIntyre being dragged by the police out of his wheelchair.

The general public now have the power to report news. Many of the descriptions, images and clips that provoked the strongest response over the protests were reported on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr before being picked up by mainstream media.

The impact of social media was not limited to the way the student protests were reported, but also influenced the way in which students were able to organise themselves. Protests on multiple dates were arranged, making the protest the biggest seen since the 1970s.

Anti-social Media

However, some negative repercussions could be seen as attributable to the use of social media. Arguably, social media contributed to some extent to the transformation of the nature of the protest from one that was intended to be purely peaceful, to one that spiralled into violence. Anarchists determined to cause violence and destruction were also able to more easily mobilise themselves through social media. Twitter was used to advertise locations where there was a weaker police presence.  For example, KhurmArshad Tweeted: “Dear Students Please proceed to Liberal Democrats, 4 Cowley Street, after Milbank Tower. Show them who’s boss.” On top of this it has been estimated that up to 30 different organisations worked to organise the student protests, making it difficult to ensure that everyone acted in the peaceful manner originally intended.

The huge impact social media can have on these events stems from the speed at which it allows messages to spread. Word of mouth is far slower – in that one person might be able to communicate their idea to about 10 people, whereas blogs and social media allow messages to be communicated to 100s of people in one go.

Implications for Businesses

The scale of reach that these platforms offer can be used in a variety of ways. As explained in this post, social media has given the public a tool for protest, and this tool must not be ignored by businesses.

Companies have also found themselves the target of social media campaigns. For example Nestle was in March last year attacked as part of online protests over their use of palm oil, which has been linked to deforestation in Indonesia. Numerous complaints were made on their Facebook page, as part of  a lengthy, and at times venomous, protest.

Similarly, Gap’s new logo recently came under attack online, causing them to revert to their original design despite having spent large amounts on the revision. It might be argued that social media has given the voiceless a voice. Whether or not this is true, it is clear that businesses need to be aware of the power of social media, and try to harness it for the good of their brand.