Sunday, August 25, 2013

A social media milestone, August 26, 2013, Opportunities and Caveats

"If you want Revolution, you have to do it like Bonifacio did, face to face"

So much has been written in the academic to the non academic literature about what triggered and why the Arab Spring revolutions eventually restructured the political landscape of the Middle East. This has been one of the topics in our Science, Technology and Society (STS) courses in the University of the Philippines.

Then in PH, came the horrible scandal of the pork barrel funds mess. One woman on Facebook suggested that the people come to Manila's Luneta Park to express their disgust to what their lawmakers and the Executive did to their tax money. And the call became viral.

At first based on the data we have for social media access, political mobilization across the social economic classes of PH society may be harder than expected. While 30-40 million Filipinos may have accounts to any of the social media platforms, the nature of their access is class defined. Social media in PH is essentially a middle class phenomenon and reflects this class's concerns, ideologies and biases so much made manifest in the outrage resulting from a college freshman's suicide last March.

Or is it really a purely middle class phenomenon?

So far there has been no sustained social movement in the last 30 years that has resulted in social structural change in PH society regardless of the media used to effect it. Social and political movements may have effected regime change via media as in EDSA 1986 and EDSA 2000, it is debatable if social structural change has happened.

Social movements may focused on a single issue or issues particular to a socio-economic class. In the social media paradigm and theory, these movements may start as emergent entities without a central authority although they may have a co-ordinating group. It is almost a given that social movements are composed of various interest groups which have to be co-ordinated and any decision should be by consensus.

Social movements may have as an end goal political and economic reform within the current status quo. This would necessitate negotiated settlement among the various groups and based on the experience of the negotiated end of Apartheid in South Africa (which couldn't be done without including the exiled African National Congress (ANC)), it is expected that the aftermath won't be easy. The ANC's front in South Africa (which opposed accommodation with the old regime) was not the only anti Apartheid group but they went into confrontation with other groups which accepted the Apartheid regime's reforms that negotiation was the only solution.

All this happened before the Age of Internet but photocopied pamphlets fulfilled the role of viral memes in the Facebook universe.

A revolutionary movement's goal is to overthrow an existing ruling socio-political institutions commonly by violence or less commonly by negotiation.

A social movement may morph into a revolutionary movement once authority and decision making becomes more centralized. Social media has changed how this is to be done. With social media, revolutionary movements right from the start would have to network outside their ideological groups, even if some of the groups are antithetical to their ideology, thereby taking on the function of a social movement. The literature on revolutions is inordinately focused on outcomes rather than mobilization or organization. The Age of Social Media is interesting for STS studies since the outcome of any social and revolutionary movement is extremely closely mediated by technology that determines the organization or lack of organization of the event or its effectiveness.

Nonetheless, social and revolutionary movements today require strong social media networking (which is now easily done) which can translate to mobilization. But commitment to social and political change requires face to face encounters.

What will happen on the Luneta on August 26, 2013 bears watching. However the participants should resist any attempt of the emergent organizers to focus the attention on a particular issue when it is clear to PH society that the problem is structural and may require the removal of the ruling class, by negotiation if much as possible!

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