The placard is old-world. If you want to raise a hue and cry, there’s nothing better than social networking to voice your protests. Causes have found a new venue on Twitter and Facebook. The ‘Arab Spring’ showed the world that civil resistance has got a new weapon in the form of Twitter.
Of course, Twitter (or any other social network) is not a solution in itself. It is not the silver bullet that will topple regimes. It can at best be described as a catalyst. Twitter is another front against censorship. Think of it as the best free advertising agency you have on hand to promote your message.
Organizing and managing a protest is no different from planning an event. We have all heard about Tweetups. A ‘protest’ can be thought of as a Tweetup with an extra dash of emotion. If you have an issue worth peacefully demonstrating over with a show of protest, Twitter is one tool you should exploit.
What Makes Twitter a Weapon Of Mass Protest?
In short, the very reason that makes Twitter such a great viral promotional tool. Twitter has a huge user base, is instantaneous, and free. Twitter is also spread across two bandwidths – the web and the mobile. Tweets can be read and transmitted by the simplest of mobile devices these days. They can also be easily used by the common man. Twitter also follows the path of least resistance via retweets. After all, how many times have you really given a deep thought to a message before retweeting it and sending it to your followers? Just like any other social media, the message gets transmitted exponentially.
But the real thrust is provided by its tagging mechanism called hashtags. Hashtags are like keywords, and are searchable. But unlike keywords, a hashtag gets its power from the users of Twitter themselves. Including hashtags (#thisisahashtag) in your tweets makes them trackable in real time. Twitter trends are more often than not born from hashtags.
Numerous hashtag directories exist (like Hashtag.org). If a hashtag does not exist, you can register one yourself and spread it around via your tweets. This is one of the easiest ways to create a ‘group’ of followers for your cause. Marketing companies quite commonly use hashtags to promote their products. Political campaigns have followed suit. Tweets with hashtags go viral more quickly. So, why shouldn’t a mass protest? For instance, the hashtag for the Egyptian uprising was #Jan25 (based on the date it began) along with #Egypt.
How To Start Your Own Mass Protest With Twitter
It would be incredibly naïve to say that a mass movement can be started with Twitter alone. In my opinion, Twitter is just an enabler…a promotional tool…at best a ‘digital’ word of mouth. Twitter also can be only partially effective if not supported by other social media campaigns. Perhaps, Jared Cohen’s tweet update says it best:
Yes, outrage spread across Twitter when Khaled Saeed was murdered. But it can be argued that it was the last straw that broke the camel’s back as the Egyptian keg of grievances had already built up.
Facebook is a great tool that can be used alongside Twitter. Facebook allows you to design and schedule events, post videos, images, and texts. For example We are all Khaled Said continues to spread news about the change in Egypt.
Starting your own protest should then involve as many social media tools as you can muster. Each has its own aspects, but let’s see what we can do with Twitter. Here are a few back-of-the-envelope points:
- Tap into your Twitter network and drum up support. Create the buzz as any marketing guru would say.
- Find people to follow on Twitter. Twitter is about networking and finding the right people. A protest often needs a known face to garner more support. Twitter directories could put you on their doorstep. Good target profiles to follow are the movers and shakers from the media, activists who are working on the same issues, and politicians. Tap into any Twitter list you can find on the topic of you are trying to advocate.
- Protests are all about location. Decide and strategize on an appropriate one. Ideally, avoid a Wi-Fi blindspot, so digital devices can function without interruption.
- Take advantage of local group networks like MeetUp.com. You can use event sharing tools like Plancast to create communities around your campaign.
- As said before tap into the power of a hashtag. Check if the issue already has a hashtag. If not, settle for a strong memorable hashtag. Also try to ensure that everyone uses the hashtag. Include the hashtag in every networking message.
And, hope that your followers are tech-savvy!
Here are two nice places to read up on digital activism – both small and big – and the importance of social networks: Movements.org and (it hasn’t been updated for a while, but still has usable information).
As with anything else, the kick-off is the most important stage of a movement that is shooting for mass appeal. The idea is to build momentum and then allow it to roll on its own. If you had to start your own little protest program with the help of Twitter, how would you do it? Do you think Twitter could be useful for change at the local level too?
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons