Advocating for Activism: The Democratization of Media

5 Nov

Since this is my last week blogging about social media activism, I decided to conclude with a scholarly article that directly addresses a lot of the things I have been talking about for these past few weeks. “Democratic Media Activism through the Lens of Social Movement Theory” by William K. Carroll and Robert A. Hackett is an article from Media, Culture and Society (2006) that will serve as a perfect conclusion for my analysis.

Definitions and Data

This article focus on media democratization, which involves activists trying to change media messages and practices to be more subjective, equal, and democratic. Media activists who advocate for media democratization make it possible for activists with other causes, from gay rights to animal abuse awareness, to share their messages with the public.

To conduct this study, Carroll and Hackett interviewed 54 individuals throughout the UK, Canada, and the United States. Two thirds of them were self-proclaimed “media activists” and the other third were “activists” for other causes.


            The authors find four major ways media activists strive to democratize media:

– influence the content and practices of mainstream media (ex. media monitoring, campaigns for change)

– advocating reform of government policy and regulation toward media

-building democratic, independent, and participatory media (creating institutions to give a voice to the marginalized in mainstream media)

-changing the relationship between audiences and the media (ex. media education)

So What?

            The authors conclude that media democratization is different than normal online activism because it influences the behavior of every activist who uses the media to promote a cause. I agree that media activism is a kind of “meta-activism” that indirectly advocates on behalf of activists.

This article is complicated and theoretical, but as a whole it emphasizes the serious, foundational effects of the media on modern day activism. Without the internet and social media platforms, activism would be unrecognizable compared to what it is today. Advocating for the democratization of media – media education, awareness, and institutional reform in the name of egalitarianism – is what makes advocating for everything else possible.


Barack Obama, Part 2: Social Media and the Presidency

29 Oct

Last week I explored some of the social media strategies that Barack Obama uses to campaign. This week, I’m going to talk about how he uses social media to communicate from the White House.

The president’s primary form of communication via a social networking site is Twitter. @whitehouse is the Obama team’s Twitter address, and they most definitely make good use of it. There are several benefits to this kind of political activism. First of all, it makes the White House seem very accessible and it connects Obama’s staff with his constituents and vice versa.

The account is used to broadcast important information, press releases, and Obama’s agenda as well as to retweet relevant comments from others and respond to questions from curious civilians. These Twitter town halls are modeled after traditional town hall meetings that typically occur in a community so that a politician can intimately connect with individuals. Online, this takes the form of tweeting questions @thewhitehouse with the tag #whchat.

These opportunities for communication are really great in theory, and I do believe that they are beneficial for everyone involved, but they have a tragic flaw: feed clogging. Whenever the White House staff is busy tweeting, my entire Twitter page is overflowing with questions from random people that can sometimes be confusing and relatively vague responses with a bunch of links from the president.

I have never personally tweeted a question for Mr. Obama, but the fact that I could if I wanted to is certainly interesting. There are so many things I would like to ask him, I should probably start thinking of questions that are 140 characters or less!

I can clog your Twitter with whatever I want because I'm the President of the USA!

Barack Obama, Part 1: #bestsocialmediacampaignever

23 Oct

One of the main reasons I’m researching social media activism is the 2012 presidential race. There is no question that Barack Obama blew open the social media world in 2008. I can’t wait to see how he outdoes himself for this election and how his competition adapts to the new playing field.

Therefore, this post is the first of two posts about Obama’s use of social media. Today I’ll focus on his campaigning, next week I’ll focus on how he uses social media from the White House.


This shirt, released for donors in the 2012 campaign, pretty much sums up what I have to say. As of right now (according to, Obama has 23.7 million Facebook friends and 10 million people receive Tweets from his Twitter, @BarackObama.

Obama uses both platforms to share stories and pertinent info about current politics, news from the White House, and campaign progress. More importantly, in my opinion, Obama holds relatively frequent Twitter Town Hall sessions where anyone can Tweet questions and get them answered by Obama himself (his personal tweets are signed –BO, everything else is done by his campaign team). These sessions also occur on LinkedIn and occasionally Facebook. How much more voter-friendly and accessible can you get?

Obviously, Obama’s first social media campaign was a success. Here is a compilation of statistics regarding social media use in the 2008 campaign. Some highlights? Obama had 380% more Facebook followers than John McCain, and his Twitter was 240 times more popular.

Campaign financing in 2008 was unique because Obama raised a tremendous amount of money from small donors who donated online. In addition to making small donations, millions of people tagged themselves in Obama’s “Hope” campaign picture on Facebook. This means that Obama not only piqued the interest of potential voters, his social media messages inspired them to leave the virtual world and monetarily commit to his campaign. That’s a big step in a place where simply clicking “like” is considered significant.

Iconic Online Hope

The Obama 2012 campaign machine has already started fundraising and increasing their presence on social media sites. I don’t think the 2012 social media campaign can be explained without examining the foundation laid by @thewhitehouse, however, so next week’s post will examine Obama’s use of social media as the president.

Playing For Change

16 Oct

This short video  highlights some of the main points of using social media as a tool of activism. The video mentions a music activism project, so I did some further research.

Playing For Change

Playing For Change is a perfect example of social activism in the media. The Playing For Change project began with a few people travelling the world and to record different musicians playing the same song. These unique compilations were then sold (reaching the top of the music charts, in many cases) and the funds were used to support music education programs in underdeveloped areas.

The program was so successful that it attracted attention from PBS, which eventually resulted in a feature length documentary. The original video stated that one of the major strengths of social media is its ability to cater toward niche groups. Playing For Change is proof that by connecting otherwise unrelated individuals around the globe (from street musicians in Africa to European recording artists), social media can turn random people with similar interests and motivations into effective activists.

Activism from Alabama to Tehran: The Difference between “Social” and “Networking”

7 Oct

“Activism that challenges the status quo—that attacks deeply rooted problems—is not for the faint of heart.”

–Malcolm Gladwell, “Small Change, Why the Revolution Will Not be Tweeted”. The New Yorker. 4 October 2010.

Activism from Greensboro…

This article from The New Yorker is an excellent introduction to my studies of social media activism. The author, Gladwell, begins by describing the context of the Greensboro, Alabama lunch counter sit-ins in the1960s. He emphasizes that the students who participated in the sit-ins were taking a significant risk by physically placing themselves in the hostile sit-in environment and that the original four students relied heavily on intense personal connections to plan the events and recruit participants. He concludes that the kind of social activism that inspired a social revolution in the 1960s involved unwavering commitment, determination, and strong personal ties between activists.

…to Tehran.

Gladwell then mentions the revolutions in Iran and some ex-Communist countries that occurred within the past few years. Although Twitter is cited as a major source of the activism that inspired those political revolutions, several scholars as well as the author doubt that tweets from primarily western observers were truly responsible for the bulk of the risky revolts in the Middle East.

Social Ties and Expansive Networks

The rest of the article is devoted to the two major differences between activism in the 1960s and social media activism today. The first main difference is the distinction between strong social ties (the students in Greensboro all knew each other and recruited their roommates, peers, and personal friends to participate) and weak social ties (no one tweeting about the protests in Iran actually knew anyone who was in the streets of Tehran).

Second, civil rights era activism involved a hierarchical system built upon the significant commitments of individuals. Modern social media activism involves building a network that spans millions of people but is only founded on a very small commitment from each person.

Depth, Breadth, and Changing Revolution

Gladwell seems to be writing about the difference between depth and breadth when he compares types of activism. In the 60s, individuals willing to cooperate under a system of leadership made serious commitments (risking arrest, death, etc.) to make a change. Now, millions of people consider themselves to be activists because they “like” a page about a social issue on Facebook or retweet a factoid.

I agree with Gladwell when he says that serious change comes from serious commitment, and that ten devoted activists can do more making true personal connections than 100 Facebook friends can. However, the Occupy Wall Street movement and the characteristics of the Arab Spring may indicate that social media can be manipulated more effectively than only a few years ago when Gladwell published this article.