(3) Collective Action
BlackLivesMatter is an SN, and a social movement in that it embodies a philosophy. It became a network under that hashtag in 2013 when Alicia Garza, a civil rights activist in Oakland, California published her opinion of the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who was responsible for the death of Trayvon Martin. Social movements need technology to generate collective action. In 1965 Alabama, while the telephone lines were heavily used, the most important technology was the
set of film canisters being ferried past police blockades on Highway 80 by an ABC News TV crew, racing for the Montgomery airport and heading to New York for an evening broadcast. That night, 48 million Americans would watch the scene in their living rooms .
Martin Luther King Jr. would go on to use television as his technological tool.
The BlackLivesMatter movement is a decentralized structure, helped by a plethora of platforms, depending upon the objective. Information is the institution supporting the movement and posting videos of police violence on Instagram, Periscope, Vine or Facebook, acquires instant virality. However, the diversity of platforms dilutes the strength of the message. Even with the heightened visibility afforded by SM, the deeper message of the movement needs to be constantly reaffirmed . SM gives a voice to any individual, regardless of demographic category, and propagation of this voice is by friends so no organized publicity machine is required.
At a pragmatic level, citizens of the small town of Jun, Spain (pop 3500), where more than 50 % of the residents have Twitter accounts, demonstrate participatory democracy: they communicate with local government officials about the provision, or breakdown, of public services via their Twitter accounts. Twitter communication is highly visible so tweets made about a broken street lamp are immediately followed by the mayor’s response which includes the electrician’s name. The free publicity to the electrician is paired with a reputation-on-the-line threat, so the lamp is fixed in less than twenty-four hours .
In the 2010 election, Facebook reminded voters to go to the polls, resulting in 340,000 additional votes nationwide. The company’s get- out-the-vote strategy in 2012 was not as successful due to software bugs. In early 2014, Facebook altered the emotional tone of 500,000 users’ News Feeds to see how that changed their subsequent posts. In the 2014 mid-term elections, all Facebook users logging onto the site on Election Day were reminded to vote and an “I’m a Voter” button was displayed on the Facebook page. Facebook has displayed the “I’m a Voter” button in ten national elections, including those in India, Brazil and Indonesia .
On the negative side, governments are concerned about the use of SM by terrorist organizations. Robert Hannigan, the head of Britain’s intelligence agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), has “castigated the giant American companies that dominate the Internet” for providing the vehicle for terrorists to advance their cause. Mr. Hannigan calls for “a new deal between democratic governments and the technology companies in the area of protecting our citizens,” in a balance between national security interests and civil liberties .
The SN of connected individuals facilitated by the SM platform is characterized by engagement, empowerment and immediacy, but results in a global citizen.