Activism & Social Media

Team members

Demet Dagdelen, Hadas Eyal & Thomas Poell

Introduction

From the 25th to the 27th of June 2010, a G-20 summit took place in Torronto, Canada. As with most major international economic meetings, the summit was accompanied by protests. These protests were organized by the Toronto Community Mobilization Network, which made an effort to set up its own alternative channels of communication. The network urged the protestors to “broadcast breaking news” on the G20 Alternative Media Centre ( 2010.mediacoop.ca) using Twitter, Flickr or YouTube. It tries to coordinate the protestor’s reports with the common hash tag: #g20report.

This enthusiastic embrace of social media is remarkable, as, for the past decade, the major activist platform for reporting and communicating on the so-called “anti-globalization or democratic globalization protests” was Indymedia.org. This global network of Independent Media Centers was created in November 1999 to cover the protests against the WTO summit in Seattle. At the time, the NGOs involved were deeply dissatisfied with the mass media reporting on the anti-globablization protests. According to the NGO’s, the mass media were too much focused on violence and confrontations with the police, and they generally portrayed the protestors as deviants on the margins of society (Atton & Hamilton 2008; Downing 2002; Kidd 2003;). The Indymedia network was supposed to function as a platform for alternative reporting, allowing the activists to communicate their own accounts, and not having to depend on the mainstream media to voice their point of view. The network would make it possible for the protestors to shift the attention from police confrontations to the actual issues at stake in the protests. Research has demonstrated that while the Indymedia network has its problems, in various instances, it indeed served these objectives (Atton 2002, 2004; Coyer 2005)

Important to notice is that the Indymedia centers with some variations function as open publishing platforms, but do have editorial and technical teams which have a major influence on which reports end up on the feature page, and which reports are removed. In this sense, there is still gatekeeping taking place on the Indymedia platform (Platon and Deuze, 2003). By comparison, the social media platforms used in the recent G-20 protests in Torronto are completely open. Moreover, these are, in contrast to Indymedia, mobile platforms, which allow the protestors to directly report their observations and concerns from the ground. In combination, these considerations makes one curious as to what kind of accounts of the Torronto G-20 protests are generated through the social media platforms?

Research questions

Operationalizing this question, we have focussed on Twitter. Examining #g20report hash tag on Twitter, we have tried to answer the two following research questions:

1. What is the dominant visual and texual account of the protests articulated on Twitter through the #g20report hash tag? Is this account primarily focussed on the central issues of the protests, or on the confrontations with the police, which also occured?

2. Who is involved in the articulation of the #g20report account? Is this a small group, or is there a wide variety of users involved?

Method

1. Scape Twitter for the hash tag #g20report (We were able to scrape Twitter through Google Updates for 25 and 26 June, until 3 pm).

2. Create a list of top retweets and the top retweeted pictures (by selecting the top retweets we were able to tease the dominant textual and visual account).

3. Select users from the scraped #g20report hash tag.

4. Examine how many tweets are produced by the top 10 users.

Findings

The activist use of social media, on the one hand, appears to democratize protest reporting. The analysis shows that around a thousand individual users were involved in producing the Twitter account. The analysis does indicate that a few users were much more active than the rest. Yet, this group does not fully dominate the account: the ten most active users produce about 25% of the total number of tweets. Hence, by embracing social media, the activists appear to be able to repair one of the main problems of the Indymedia network: that the reporting is controlled by a small group of insiders.

However, on the other hand, democratization and mobility does come with a price tag attached. The dominant visual and textual account of the protests articulated through the #g20report hash tag is overwhelmingly one of confrontations between the protesters and the police. Virtually all of the top retweets discussed illegitimate police activity:
  • journalists are being detained and arrested while filming police doing illegal searches on people.”
  • “incredible police violence”
  • “Cops stealing and breaking”
  • “organizer violently arrested”
  • “police beat people with batons”.

The same type of account emerges from the top retweeted pictures, which depict: police lines, heavily armed police men, and confrontations between the police and the protestors. Only one of the top retweeted pictures shows protestors with picket signs walking the streets. Hence, in this sense, the Twitter account seems to replicate the traditional mass media reporting on ‘anti-globalization protests’. Of course, the main difference being that the Twitter account points to the police as the main instigators of violence.

The impression that the Twitter account mimics mass media reporting, is further reinforced by the fact none of the top retweets concerned the issues of the protests, which included:
  • self-determination for indigenous peoples”
  • “climate justice”,
  • “income equity and community control over resources”
  • “migrant justice and an end to war and occupation”
  • “gender justice, queer and disability rights”

In short, while the activist use of social media entails a democratization of protest reporting, at the same time, it reinforces the focus on violence, instead of on the actual issues of the protests.

Future Research

To turn this preliminary investigation into a full fledged research project, the following steps will have to be taken:

Finish reconstructing #G20report account

1. Scrape Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr for the hash tag #g20report for the period between 23 June and 3 July, when most activity under this hash tag took place.

2. For each day between 23 June and 3 July, create a list of: top retweets and the top retweeted pictures, and most relevant pictures on Flickr. Moreover, compile a list of the watched videos on Youtube with this hashtag.

3. Examine how many users were involved in producing the #G20report account on the three social media platforms. How many tweets, photos, and videos were produced by the top 10 users?

Competing activist accounts

An interesting additional question is whether the #G20report hash tag effectively organizes the activist accounts of the protests on the three social media platforms. This question can be addressed in the following way:

1. Find the competing hash tags and queries on the protests on Twitter, Flickr, YouTube by snowballing with the #g20report hash tag and the “G-20 protests” query.

2. Scrape the three platforms for the top related hash tags, and queries.

3. For each query and hash tag, for everyday between 23 June and 3 July, create a list of: top retweets and the top retweeted pictures, and most relevant pictures on Flickr. Moreover, compile a list of the watched videos on Youtube.

4. Compare the dominant textual and visual accounts from each of the hash tags and queries with the #G20 report account.

Mass media account

Finally, it is interesting to compare the dominant activist social media accounts with the mass media account of the protests. This is fascinating precisely because the NGO’s involved in the ‘anti-globalization protests’ turned to alternative media channels out of dissatisfaction with the mass media reporting. In this respect, it is interesting to examine whether the use of alternative media effectively produces an alternative account.

1. Scrape the Google News Archive for the queries “G20 protests” and “G-20 protests” for the period between 23 June and 3 July.

2. For each of the two queries, create a list of the ten most relevant news articles on the protests for everyday between 23 June and 3 July.

3. Compare the dominant news account(s) with the dominant textual and visual account from the social media platforms.

References

Atton, Chris & James F. Hamilton (2008) Alternative Journalism. Los Angeles: Sage

Atton, Chris (2002) Alternative Media. London: Sage

Atton, Chris (2004) An Alternative Internet: Radical Media, Politics and Creativity. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press

Coyer, Kate (2005) “If It Leads It Bleeds: The Participatory Newsmaking of the Independent Media Centre”, pp. 165-178 in Wilma de Jong, , Martin Shaw & Neil Stammers (Eds.) Global Activism, Global Media. London: Pluto Press.

Downing, John (2002) “Independent Media Centres: A multi-local, multi-media challenge to global neoliberalism”, pp. 215–232 in Marc Raboy (ed.) Global media Policy in the New Millennium. Luton: Luton University Press.

Kidd, D. (2003) ‘Indymedia.org: A New Communication Commons’, in M. McCaughey and M.D. Ayers (eds) Cyberactivism: Online Activism in Theory and Practice. New York: Routledge.

Platon, Sara & Mark Deuze (2003) “Indymedia Journalism. A Radical Way of Making, Selecting and sharing news?”, Journalism. 4 (3) pp. 336-355.

Topic attachments
I Attachment Action Size Date Who Comment
250610_Retweets.txttxt 250610_Retweets.txt manage 29 K 09 Sep 2010 - 12:54 ThomasPoell  
250610_cleaned.tsvtsv 250610_cleaned.tsv manage 807 K 09 Sep 2010 - 12:53 ThomasPoell  
250610_tweetsPerUser.txttxt 250610_tweetsPerUser.txt manage 4 K 09 Sep 2010 - 12:54 ThomasPoell  
260610_Retweets.txttxt 260610_Retweets.txt manage 53 K 09 Sep 2010 - 12:55 ThomasPoell  
260610_cleaned.tsvtsv 260610_cleaned.tsv manage 1 MB 09 Sep 2010 - 12:55 ThomasPoell  
260610_tweetsPerUser.txttxt 260610_tweetsPerUser.txt manage 6 K 09 Sep 2010 - 12:56 ThomasPoell  
Topic revision: r15 - 09 Sep 2010, ThomasPoell
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