Y we must defend the social media commons: because social media + u = social justice

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Last month I attended a public meeting on the issue of Housing and Social Justice. One of the speakers was a young guy from London Black Revolutionaries, the group claiming responsibility for concreting over the ‘anti-homeless spikes’ that appeared outside of business and residential premises across the capital (and indeed across cities all over the U.S. and Europe) earlier this year, forming new enclosures of public space in order to prevent rough sleeping.

The decision by London Black Revolutionaries, to use social media to voice their opposition to the spikes and publicise their direct action, resulted in thousands of comments on Facebook and Twitter condemning the actions of the businesses involved. The next day many of these businesses announced hasty arrangements to have the spikes removed altogether – inspiring activists across Europe to follow the example of the London Black Revolutionaries.

Listening to this guy got me thinking about other examples where personal and social media has been instrumental in achieving social justice and effecting social change. For example, the mobile phone videos made by members of the public and later submitted as evidence at the trials of the L.A.P.D. officers responsible for the racially motivated beating of Rodney King in 1991, and unlawful killing of Ian Tomlinson by British police during the G20 demonstrations in London in 2009, were key to achieving at least some semblance of justice for those concerned, and holding to account those in positions of power who profess to work in our interests; and the strategic use of social media during the Arab Spring in 2011,  which played such an important role in the mobilisation and coordination of people in the overthrow of the Tunisian, Egyptian and Libyan governments.

None of this would have been possible a decade ago.

Unsurprisingly, there has been a flurry of interest in social media from within academic circles, and there is now a growing body of research into this  phenomena – no doubt much of it carried out on behalf of national governments, who ever since the advent of the European print press in 1452, have tried to control the flow of information from monarchs, governments and the church, to the people, by means of legal and financial enclosure. (Not convinced our mainstream media is an enclosure? Then you really should watch this film documentary – a first hand witness account of media manipulation in the attempted ousting of President Hugo Chavez during the military coup in Venezuela in 2002).

Just as we ask whether it is art that reflects life or life that reflects art, much of this research is concerned with the direction of the causal relationship between social media and social action. The conclusion seems to be, that events like the Arab Spring became possible only after social media, which over a period of time, enables like-minded people wherever they are in the world, to develop collective perceptions based on the sharing of pre- existing ideas and beliefs, so revolutionising how people form political opinion.

Could defence of the social media commons be the final frontier?

Let me know your views:  

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Results to be published on Outlook 0n 9 January 2015.

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