Roundup: Our Top 5 Posts on Social Media

Even POTUS is on Twitter now.
Even POTUS is on Twitter now.

Social media networks have been around for a while, but it’s only in the last decade that they’ve evolved into a tool used by activists and extremist groups alike. Here are our best blog posts on the topic thus far.

Social Media in the Era of ISIS: In one of our first and most-read articles, Sultan al-Qassemi looks at ISIS’ alarmingly-effective social media strategies, and how the social media sphere has changed to include these extremist militant groups along with left-wing activists. If that’s not enough, check out the key takeaways from our event on Social Media in the Mideast, where Sultan elaborates on some of these ideas.

What initially was a space for liberal minded technology geeks and activists is now a darker, gloomier world in which threats are made and videos of brutal beheadings and government flogging of liberal activists are shared and cheered. Today the social media landscape in the Middle East resembles the squares and streets of the Arab Spring cities of yore: it is a new battleground for hearts and minds between regimes, Islamists and activists; between young and old; between freedom and constraint.

It’s more than just a click! Why we should stop referring to online activism as “slacktivism”: Sandy Schumann argues that we should stop using the word “slacktivism” to refer to online activism. Just because it’s easier doesn’t mean it’s lazy, and in fact, online activism can entice those who would otherwise not engage because it carries less risk and less opportunity cost.

The slacktivism critique has been endorsed by drawing on anecdotes of campaigns that resulted—apparently—only in digital attention but not in meaningful, instrumental support.[2]  Importantly though, the postulations have not been confirmed in systematic, empirical analyses.  On the contrary, contesting the idea of an uncommitted citizen who would only sign an online petition, so-called slacktivist actions seem to be an expression of citizens’ dedication to a cause and a stepping-stone for future civic participation.

A hashtag’s unintended consequences in Nigeria: Emmanuel Akinwotu explores the effects of the conflict with Boko Haram and subsequent #BringBackOurGirls campaign on Nigerian politics and society.

A year after the Twitter campaign “#bringbackourgirls” put Nigeria on front pages around the world, the whereabouts of 219 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram on April 14, 2014 remains unknown.

The global clamor for their release, ferocious in the months after the kidnappings, is now modest, by comparison. But the campaign — and even more, the brutal conflict that sparked it — has had major consequences. Over the past year, Nigeria has changed.

Digital Rights are Human Rights: Tim Hardy examines the relationship between the digital and material worlds. As the distance between them shrinks, he argues, we must defend our rights to both freedom of speech and privacy on the Internet.

There is an opportunity here. We can continue to participate in a global trend towards greater repression in the name of security and freedom. We can continue to give succour to regimes that monitor their citizens for the overt goal of silencing all dissenting voices. We can continue to build a machinery of totalitarianism that we hope but cannot guarantee will not be put to malevolent ends. Or we can take back the moral lead.

PS21 Report: Social Media and Politics: Born of a discussion held by PS21 in late May, our report on social media and politics explores how these networks have allowed activists to connect, start or further political movements, and take action. With comments from Tim Hardy, Jonn Elledge, and Sandy Schumann, the report is an interesting and illuminating read.

Sandy: I know computer scientists who are basically working on… putting together [the formula for the perfect tweet] and I don’t think they are too far off…

Jonn: I wonder… If you ever work out what the perfect tweet is, does the perfect tweet change?

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