#StopG8 - Activist Perceptions Of Social Media Use In Contemporary Global Justice Protest

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 10:45 AM
Room: 315
Oral Presentation
Phil WADDELL , University of Southampton, Southampton, United Kingdom
In June 2013, a group of global justice activists occupied an abandoned police training academy in central London. The building became a “convergence space” from which a series of events were organised in protest against the G8 summit that was simultaneously taking place in London. The group were known as “Stop G8” and had an online presence with a blog, facebook group and a unique hashtag (#StopG8) on Twitter, which pointed to awareness by organising members of the group regarding the value of maintaining a presence on the Web.

This paper presents an ethnographic account of a week spent with these activists in the convergence space which was carried out in order to explore the position of the Web and of social media in the real-time process of protest participation. Through participant observation and interviews with activists, a picture emerged that runs in some ways counter to the mainstream understanding of the benefits of social media towards political activism.

It became clear during this study that these situated activists had a broadly apathetic, in some cases hostile view of using the Web. Two clear concerns noted during the ethnography were; the shift in recent years from public forums and well-connected networks of committed activists to a more fragmented network of individual social media profiles, a filter bubble effect which appears to have reduced the ability of activists to create coordinated alternative media for protest events and the clear adoption of social media by not only the public at large, but corporations and governments existing within clear power structures that present little opportunity for decisive political change. It may be that the opinions of these activists are a signal of a shift within activist networks away from corporately controlled, mainstream social media towards more ideologically suitable Web services and virtual communities.