Media Activism
Occupy Wall Street protesters in Zuccotti Park using their laptops, September 2011

Media activism is a broad category of activism that utilizes media and communication technologies for social and political movements. Methods of media activism include publishing news on websites, creating video and audio investigations, spreading information about protests, and organizing campaigns relating to media and communications policies.

Media activism can be used for many different purposes. It is often employed by grassroots activists and anarchists to spread information not available via mainstream media or to share censored news stories.[1] Certain forms of politically motivated hacking and net-based campaigns are also considered media activism. Often, the focus of media activism is to change policies relating to media and communications.[2]

Forms of media activism

Social media is often used as a form of media activism. Because of the interactive features and widespread adoption, users can quickly disseminate information and rally supporters.[3] Platforms like Facebook and Twitter can reach a much larger audience than traditional media. Although often only a small percentage of people who express interest in a cause online are willing to commit to offline action, social media interaction is viewed as "the first step in a ladder of engagement".[4]"Social media has helped us organize without having leaders," said Victor Damaso, 22, demonstrating on São Paulo's main Paulista Avenue on Thursday night. "Our ideas, our demands are discussed on Facebook. There are no meetings, no rules".[5]

Live streams applications or websites such as Livestream is another media form which can replace TV when there is a kind of censorship. The protests in Istanbul can be an example of this way of broadcasting in terms of the lack of the objectivity of the actual media and the television.[6] On the other hand, a lot of protestors used Whatsapp or Walkie-Talkie application with their smartphones in order to improve communication between protestors during the manifestations thanks to its quick and instantaneous information share.[7] Moreover, the usage of applications such as Whatsapp can increase the organisation of the protestors due to the group messages.[8]

YouTube is another efficient tool of spreading information. It is generally used with other social media forms such as Facebook and Twitter. The most important example of the media activism through YouTube can be the video of Kony which reached to one hundred million views in 6 days. Manifesting by using videos allows protesters to reach the whole world easier than just publishing in a local language.[9]

Culture jamming, another form of media activism, is a subversive strategy of protest that re-appropriates the tropes of mainstream media "in order to take advantage of the resources and venues they afford".[10]

Media activism has expanded its scope to include fields of study such as journalism and news media.[11] Media activism additionally educates the audience to be producers of their own media. Media activism to be expanded to facilitate action through media production and involvement.[12]

Case studies

Social Media has become a primary organizing tool for political and social movements globally.[13] They serve to strengthen already existing networks of political and social relationships among activists offline.[14] Media activism among youth can be linked to the way youth protest and create communities online over specific issues and social connections.[15]


Today nearly 32 percent of Venezuelan internet-users utilize social media on regular basis.[16]

Most recently, social media has been used politically to achieve success during elections, including the 2012 re-election campaign of President Hugo Chávez and the 2013 presidential campaign between Nicolás Maduro and Henrique Capriles Radonski. Social media was used to organize rallies and political platforms and affected campaign content.[17] Opposition candidate Capriles used social media as an activist approach to "drum up" support and connect with voters politically.[18] This form of media activism connected most dominantly in the Venezuelan youth population--a generation considered to be tech-savvy.[17]

On March 14, 2013, Lourdes Alicia Ortega Pérez was imprisoned by the Scientific Penal and Criminal Investigation Corps of Venezuela for tweeting a message that was considered "destabilizing to the country".[19]

Arab Spring

Protesters in Egypt celebrate in Tahrir Square after President Mubarak announced his resignation.

The 2011 Arab Spring uprisings made extensive use of social media activism within the countries of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. These nations concentrated on the ability of the society to operate social media and begin organizing a grassroots initiative for a globalized form of democracy.[20] Arab youth population are described as "opening" societies through social media in places where governments are otherwise repressive.[21]

Egyptian protesters utilized social media to reduce the difficulties and cost associated with organizing rallies and a readily-mobilized political force.[22] This facilitation of assembly through social media allowed the creation of new gateways for civic engagement where Egypt had suppressed such opportunities under emergency power for the last 30 years.[22] This facilitation of assembly through social media allowed the creation of new gateways for civic engagement where Egypt had suppressed such opportunities under emergency power for the last 30 years.[22] This uprising led to violent conflict within each of the nations, and can thus media and media activism can be viewed as a fundamental contributor to the nation's new national identity under a new rule.[20]


China has strong censorship laws in place, where the press freedoms are not considered free, rather oppressive but improving.[23] Youth in China have worked towards stronger press freedoms online and a dedication to utilizing the principles of media activism.[24] Intensive civic conversation occurs online in China.[24] Youth satirized the government through what came to be known as "the River Crab critique," in turn spurring civic conversation on the internet. Media Activists in China used their online presence and freedom to alter images, such as Marilyn Monroe, to have the face of Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong. This image was coined as Maorilyn Maoroe, which in the image is juxtaposed next to a homophone for profanity. "Maorilyn Maoroe" was an opponent to the societal River Crab, which is a pun on "harmonious," a principle that Chinese censorship was created to promote, but has failed to do so.[25]

In China, youth and other media activists have discovered and utilized new methods to indirectly criticize the political and societal environments, going around the government censorship. Social media is among the newest method of critique. Activists use "microblogs" to critique the government.[26]Blogging can therefore be seen as a media activist approach to civic participation within the bounds of government censorship.

Occupy Wall Street

Protestors as a part of the occupy wall street movement

The Occupy Wall Street movement, which began during the fall of 2011, is another instance were social media largely contributed to the efforts of the initiative. It was a people powered movement beginning September 17th, 2011 in Liberty Square in Manhattans financial district. As Occupy Wall Street sprang up in parks and under tents, one of the main issues the protesters pushed was economic inequality. Then with the winter pressing forward the police swept the protesters away. All across the country the crowds began to thin and enthusiasm diminished, and eventually the movement all but dissolved. The catch phrase that became well known by the occupants was "We are the 99 percent." The 99 percent were referred to as the lower-income people that are struggling to make a change. This was in contrast to the 1% who were well off financially and were in control of social, political and economic levers of powers.[1] From here it spread to cities all over the United State, and globally.[2] The movement came about because of the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Its main goal was to fight against the unequal income gap and the corrupting influence of money. Although many people believed that the movement disappeared, it has instead evolved into a variety of different causes. One of Occupies largest unrecognized victories is the drive for a higher minimum wage. The occupy protests helped to motivate workers in the fast food industry in New York City to walk off their jobs in November, 2012, triggering national movement to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. This march in New York helped lead the way for tens of thousands of workers who marched in hundreds of cities asking for better paying conditions. [3] Occupy Wall Street protesters capitalized on the tools of social media to spread awareness about the movement, to inform participants about organized meetings, rallies, and events, and to ultimately generate national news and mainstream media attention. Social media handles like Facebook and Twitter were used to bring people from all over to one place for an agreed upon cause. It started off with the small number of people who had the idea. Once the events, rallies and protests began, it gained the attention from mass media. This ultimately created a huge platform for the change these participants yearned for.[27]

Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter, a campaign against violence and systemic racism towards African Americans, has been influenced strongly by Social Media Activism with leaders, hashtags, and policy proposals brought forward because of Social Media. The hashtag #blacklivesmatter was created in 2013 by Patrice Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder in Florida of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin.[28] Garza wrote a Facebook post titled "A Love Note to Black People" in which she said: "Our Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter." Once the hashtag was formed, it has been a rallying cry for various organizing efforts across the country centered on Black lives.[29]

It is a movement that brings the African American community together. It is a campaign that does not promote violence but instead unity. There can be both negative or positive views on the movement due to the way the media affects people. This movement began in 2013 when people started hash tagging #BLM, #BlackLivesMatter, and #equality on Twitter, Facebook, and many social media platforms. In response to the visible violent acts against Black communities more than 50 organizations from across the country have come together to fight this unfairness based on color. Today this is still an issue, and in some peoples' opinion media does not have a positive effect on BLM. It causes people to riot and build more hatred for each other instead of the whole concept of unity. Sometimes the media, which has fake news can take things out of context, in result people will have an upsetting reaction.[4]

African Americans use Twitter at a higher rate than their white counterparts with 22 percent of online blacks using the service in 2014 compared to 16 percent of online whites.[30] Hashtags such as #OscarsSoWhite, #handsupdontshoot, and #icantbreathe have sprung up as offshoots in the social movement and have helped create a subculture on the website that some have called "Black Twitter".[31] Jelani Cobb, professor of Journalism at Columbia University, has argued that that "Black Twitter" has been as vital to Black Lives Matter as television was for the Civil Rights Movement.[32]

Social Media has also been important in highlighting individual stories of victims in the movement with hashtags #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, #HandsUpDontShoot, #MikeBrown, #BlackLivesMatter, and #Ferguson going viral.[33] Citizen reporting on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook help drive the coverage of traditional media on stories of violence, discrimination, and harassment.[34]

Kony 2012

Joseph Kony was the leader of Uganda's Lords Resistance Army (LRA) in 2012. He was accused of abducting over 60,000 Ugandan children, turning the boys into brainwashed killing machines and the young girls into sex slaves. He killed anyone who stood in his way. In 2012, an American charity named "Invisible Children" took Kony's actions and turned them into a short film, posting it on YouTube. It was the fastest growing viral video of all time, receiving over 100 million views in the span of 6 days. Kony had been wanted by the International Criminal Court since 2005 for crimes against humanity. After gaining so much attention from social media sites like YouTube and Twitter, the U.S. finally declares the LRA a terrorist group in 2008. They even sent 100 of their own troops to support Uganda in tracking Kony and taking him down. Hundreds of thousands of people tweeted with the hashtag "#stopkony". The Kony video resulted in never before seen international efforts to end Africa's longest lasting issue. The video incorporated people form all over the world who probably had no idea this problem was occurring otherwise. It proved that if people knew about an issue and were given the opportunity to help, they in fact would.[35] Social justice campaigns have been using new media strategies to communicate to the public. Things like online distribution, podcasts and the new cultural norm of social media have been fused with the traditional rallies, protests and lobbying efforts and have created a new type of change that is somewhat convenient for its followers. These new social platforms have made it possible for the public to be both the consumer and producer of media, making their efforts for change reach numbers of people at never before seen speed, like the Kony video.


States such as North Korea, Venezuela, and China have attempted to curtail media activism through a variety of tactics. The Chinese state engages in media censorship in the name of national harmony, although the Council on Foreign Relations argues that suppression of online activism is to protect authorities' political or economic interests.[36] In North Korea, the state curtails virtually all forms of digital communication, but a few transnational citizen-journalists have used technology like cell phones and thumb drives to communicate accurate news to citizens and abroad.[37]


See also


  1. ^ Kim Deterline. "FAIR's Media Activism Kit". Retrieved December 19, 2012.
  2. ^ Andors, Ph.D., Ellen (2012). The Task of Activist Media. Peoples Video Network. 
  3. ^ Ed Carrasco (March 26, 2012). "How Social Media Has Helped Activism". New Media Rockstars. Retrieved December 19, 2012
  4. ^ Sarah Kessler (October 9, 2010). "Why Social Media Is Reinventing Activism". Mashable. Retrieved December 19, 2012
  5. ^ "Social media spreads and splinters Brazil protests". Reuters. 21 June 2013. 
  6. ^ Kantrowitz, Alex. "Social Media And Istanbul's Protests: Four Things You Need To Know". Forbes. 
  7. ^ Arthur, Charles (4 June 2013). "Turkish protesters using encryption software to evade censors". 
  8. ^ Kates, Glenn (7 June 2013). "Smart-Phone Tool Lets Turkish Protesters Know WhatsApp" - via Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. 
  9. ^ Luxon, Lindsey (3 May 2013). "The Power of New Media Internet Activism: A Look at Kony 2012 One Year Later". 
  10. ^ Christine Harold (September 2004). "Pranking Rhetoric: "Culture Jamming" as Media Activism". Critical Studies in Media Communication 21 (3 ed.). pp. 189-211. Retrieved December 19, 2012
  11. ^ "Media Activism". Burlington College. Archived from the original on 10 May 2013. Retrieved 2013. 
  12. ^ "". Archived from the original on 2013-07-03.  External link in |title= (help)
  13. ^ Shirky, Clay. "The Political Power of Social Media". Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved 2013. 
  14. ^ Poell, Thomas. "Twitter as a multilingual space: The articulation of the Tunisian revolution through #sidibouzid". NECSUS. Retrieved 2013. 
  15. ^ Wolf, Linda (2001). Global Uprising: Confronting the Tyrannies of the 21st Century : Stories from a New Generation of Activists. New Society Publ.
  16. ^ Golinger, Eva. "Internet Revolution in Venezuela |". | Venezuela News, Views, and Analysis. Retrieved 26 Mar. 2013
  17. ^ a b Forero, Juan (1 October 2012). "Venezuelan youth could decide if Chavez remains in power". Washington Post. Retrieved 2013. 
  18. ^ "Capriles vs Chávez Online: Venezuela's Social Media Split". Americas Society and Council of the Americas (AS/COA), 20 Aug. 2012. Web. 16 May 2013.
  19. ^ Sonia, Doglio. "Venezuela: Twitter user detained for spreading "destabilizing" information - Global Voices Advocacy." Global Voices Advocacy - Defending free speech online.. Global Voices Advocacy, n.d. Web. 16 May 2013.
  20. ^ a b Khan, A. A (2012). "The Role Social of Media and Modern Technology in Arabs Spring". Far East Journal of Psychology & Business. 7 (1): 56-63. 
  21. ^ Khashaba, Karim. "Facebook: virtual impact on reality in the Middle East | openDemocracy". openDemocracy. Retrieved 2013. 
  22. ^ a b c Pfiefle, Mark (14 June 2012). "Social Media and Political Activism". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2013. 
  23. ^ Cook, Sarah. "China". Freedom House. Retrieved 2013. 
  24. ^ a b New Media Practices in China: Youth Patterns, Processes, and Politics. International Journal of Communication. 2011. pp. 406-436.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  25. ^ R.L.G.. "Chinese censorship: F? Kè Yóu, River Crab." The Economist, 7 June 2011. Web. 14 May 2013.
  26. ^ Mead, Walter. "Social Media Endangers and Empowers China's Activists." The American Interest, 5 Mar. 2013. Web. 3 May 2013.
  27. ^ Kanalley, Craig (6 December 2011). "Occupy Wall Street: Social Media's Role In Social Change". Huffington Post. Archived from the original on 7 February 2017. Retrieved 2017. 
  28. ^ Monica; erson; Hitlin, Paul (2016-08-15). "3. The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter emerges: Social activism on Twitter". Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. Retrieved . 
  29. ^ "Black Lives Matter". New Labor Forum. Retrieved . 
  30. ^ Smith, Aaron (2014-01-06). "African Americans and Technology Use". Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. Retrieved . 
  31. ^ Williams, Stereo (2015-07-06). "The Power of Black Twitter". The Daily Beast. Retrieved . 
  32. ^ Wortham, Jenna (2016). "Black Tweets Matter". Smithsonian. 47.5. 
  33. ^ "Twitter Adds Black Power Fists To Black Lives Matter Hashtag". The Daily Caller. Retrieved . 
  34. ^ Stephen, Bijan. "How Black Lives Matter Uses Social Media to Fight the Power". WIRED. Retrieved . 
  35. ^ Curtis & McCarthy, Polly & Tom (March 8, 2012). "Kony 2012: What the Real Story?". Retrieved 2017. 
  36. ^ Bennett, Isabella. "Media Censorship in China". Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved 2013. 
  37. ^ Boynton, Robert (February 2011). "North Korea's Digital Underground". The Atlantic. 

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