Social utopianism is everywhere. Many of the current events, mainly including such as various types of revolts, protests, rebellions and other kinds of uprisings against the authority are very often linked with the social networks as the tools playing a key role in the success of the aforementioned happenings. While social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, certainly have a share of their contributions in raising the awareness of the issues on the larger scale, are they actually the driving force of ideas being implemented in action?
According to Pablo Barberá and Megan Metzger, Ph.D. candidates in the Department of Politics at NYU, it is certainly the case. In the article “Tweeting the Revolution: Social Media Use and the #Euromaidan Protests” posted in Huffington Post on February 21st, 2014, right at the peak of violence in Ukrainian anti-governmental protests in Kiev, Barbera and Metzger claim that “as in other events of collective actions in the past few years, social media appears to be playing a prominent role in organizing and motivating Ukrainian protestors”. Based on the research conducted by them at the Social Media and Political Participation lab at NYU, which covered the period of clashes between the protesters and the police in Ukraine from November, 2013 up until February, 2014, the authors concluded that “social media, as it has throughout these protests, continues to be a pivotal organization tool for those in Kiev and also the most relevant mechanism for disseminating and exchanging information both within Ukraine and abroad”. As a core of their research, Barbera and Merzger present the data on frequency of posts on social networks, which were in one way or another connected to the protests in Kiev, also known as Euromaidan.
Although the activity of people posting and tweeting regarding the Euromaidan has risen indeed during the time of the turmoil, I believe that it is in no way an indicator of social networks being an essential organizing tool. Clearly, during such a major event as what was practically a revolution, which involved the use of firearms, as well as casualties from both of the conflicting sides, people are going to talk. Social networks provide a great opportunity to share one’s feelings regarding the situation, express one’s opinion and, maybe, even start a virtual “fight” in the comments section. Despite all these things, however, social networks do not push people out on the streets to fight for what they think is right. While many people might have gone to Maidan after seeing posts on Facebook and Twitter regarding what was happening there, there is the same chance that as many people stayed home and continued their “virtual” fight. To put it in different words, while there is a correlation between the activity on social networks and the events in Kiev, one cannot state with a hundred percent certainty that this correlation is causal, therefore the claim made by Barbera and Merzger regarding the social networks being the key organizational tool is, at the very least, amateur.
Secondly, being a native of Moldova and having a similar experience with the protests in 2009, which were immediately called by Western media as the Twitter Revolution, I know that social networks play a way less important role in these events than it is depicted. People were being bribed, threatened, provoked and manipulated in many ways, which proves that there is much more dirty politics and interests of particular individuals involved than it is covered by the media, which presents the protests as the sudden awakening of people and their desire to fight for so-called freedom. Not considering the high levels of violence, the situation in Ukraine is very similar to the one in Moldova in 2009, which makes me very skeptical about the whole argument of social networks being the liberator of people.
Surely, the role of social networks, although very often highly exaggerated, is still an important one in raising awareness among the people and giving them the opportunity to become involved in the making of decisions, the outcome of which will be reflected on the society as a whole. Despite this fact, the representation of social networks’ over-importance might be very misleading, making people believe in Facebook and Twitter as the ultimate solutions to all of their problems, while what it really does is distracting them from the reality of the events that take place in their countries.
For the full article by Barbera and Metzger, please visit http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pablo-barbera/tweeting-the-revolution-s_b_4831104.html
A featured image taken by Flickr user Steffen Voß