You are here

Cloud Protests as Customisable Activism

We move on to Stefania Milan as the next presenter at ECREA 2012. Her interests are in the social organisation of protest movements, especially through social media; what is the role of such media in the overall process, both at micro and meso levels? Collective action is a social construct which results for the interactions of social actors; their meaning construction is contextually embedded.

Social media and mobile devices are not only tools in this, but are also actors in their own right. This leads to the potential for a form of cloud protesting, representing a potential evolution of organisational patterns in which the Net serves as a backbone to activities. The cloud becomes an imagined online spaces where resources – the ingredients of collective actions, from identities through to know-how and expertise – are stored.

Cyberspace gives such resources an immaterial body, but they remain volatile, even though they are accessible to anyone with Net access. Resources can also be cherry-picked, enabling the customisation of participation, in contrast with the dynamics of centrally determined and organised traditional protests.

There are three main phases in this evolution: the social movement organisation phase (from the 1960s onwards), the networks phase (since the 1990s), and the networked individuals phase (of the 2000s). Movement networks no longer rely on organisations and their memberships; instead, the cloud has become central as a metaphor for movement individualisation. Much of this is made possible by social media and mobile devices.

The cloud is a platform where cultural and symbolic production of the movement takes place; it is the group, but with no strings attached. It is an enabler, and allows participants to establish a 'we' and 'them', but on an individual basis, through communicative choices; the politics of identity have become a politics of visibility. Social media enhance the speed of this process, and a greater shift towards cloud-based protest movements thus also influences the potential tactics available to protests; this may lead to the creation of customisable protest narratives and of tailored collective identities that fit almost all potential participants.