A new modality to conduct democracy today is that activists enhance collective activities through various social media platforms. While social media companies aim at earning money and state power coerce pressure on community policing, some conspicuous events, like the Arab Spring, suggest that the new form offers activists more opportunities and channels to pursue their goals. Despite the fact that different activist group will have very different objectives, there are some general goals they may achieve by using media platforms. I will conclude four specific goals here.
First, through activist groups’ effort to disseminate their opinions online, people who don’t know their ideas before can get more informed and affected, thus attract new people into the group. As Youmans and York state, “For activists, documenting and circulating video and images that demonstrate regime violence can help recruit new members to collective action efforts.” (Youmans & York, 2012, p. 320). Compared to traditional ways to convene mass people for a certain target, social media provide a more convenient space for information diffusion. Not only can activists spread their ideas more easily, people who are interested in their ideas can also get information quickly just by searching for the hashtags or key words on social media.
Second, activists can raise considerable attention to a certain phenomenon via graphic videos or photos transmitted online. The effect of videos and photos can be more electrifying than words. If activists want to expose unknown facts, the easiest way is to post a typical video or photos online that strike people’s heart.
Third, appropriate publicity and organization through social media can make governments and political leaders change their minds and improve democracy. Apart from decision making, governments also rely on their subjects’ support to survive. Social media can gather dissents in a fast way. If the public dissatisfaction to an affair is accumulated, political leaders may have to give in and make new decisions to ease the public nerve.
Finally, as Valenzuela, Arriagada and Scherman concluded, “Social network sites have several affordances for promoting participation, particularly protest behavior among youth.” (Valenzuela, Arriagada and Scherman, 2012, p. 302). Youth are affected by the ways that activists express their opinions and exercise a critical way of thinking at an early age because of the information flow on the internet.
However, due to commercial interests of the social media companies and government surveillance and community policing, activists sometimes face the dilemmas that their accounts will be closed or even their personal safety can be at risk. And also, “there is the risk of furthering inequality if the population of social media users is skewed toward the technologically savvy and those with high human, social, and economic capital.” (Valenzuela, Arriagada and Sherman, 2012, p. 311)
Activist groups can circumvent these obstacles through proficient utilization of social media skills. Moreover, “they can pressure large social media companies via long-term, iterative, incremental advocacy.” (Youmans & York, 2012, p. 320).