Petitioning & Protests

Project for Writing and Researching for New Media class- Fall 2010

When you think of the term “social media,” you’ll probably think of Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr and how you compulsively check these sites several times a day. You’ll probably think of the many times you worked on an essay late into the night because you surfed Facebook a few hours too long. Social media has become embedded much further into our lives than many of us realize, and I use the term “social media,” to refer to not only Facebook and Twitter, but also e-mail and technological communication in general. Social media has revolutionized the way news travels to citizens everywhere, and how we gather together to support/protest a movement. We are better enabled than ever before to mobilize and gather people together, but should this become the way of the political future? Is this the most effective way? Is it effective at all?

Author and professor, Clay Spinuzzi uses an example of the recent protests against health care reform in his blog post, “About those health care bill town halls.” The Obama administration fought diligently to pass a bill that would give  Americans better access to health-care insurance and prevent insurance companies from denying coverage based on existing conditions. Many worried about the cost of implementing the bill with the current state of the national debt. Spinuzzi points out that the protesters: Libertarians, fiscal conservatives, senior citizens, “didn’t have a lot of ideological common ground.” But for the health care protests, they only needed to be “united in tactical opposition rather than strategic objectives.”  These groups may not have had the same reasons for protesting, but because they had that opposition in common, they banded together in collective opposition. These “netwar-style protests,” are becoming the norm, but collective opposition is much less effective than coming up with a collective solution.

Consider the event that originated largely on Facebook, and called for people to wear purple to show their support for gay rights. The Facebook event called “LGBTQQIA Spirit Day Wear purple in remembrance” called for people to wear purple on October 20, and had 27,858 attendees. The public event was shared between friends and eventually reached over 100,000 Facebook users. The event undoubtedly made a significant contribution in encouraging people to give their moral support. But unfortunately that’s all it was: moral support. Social media events like this one, succeeded in mobilizing supporters in one direction. However, the movement did little, if anything at all, to encourage the passage of a law that would criminalize and define cyber-bullying and further protect people from discrimination.

While using social media to bring together citizens with similar interests is an effective way to spread the word, our culture has become focused on simply protesting and arguing against what we believe is wrong. As Spinuzzi states, “it’s easier to protest what is than to build what isn’t.” We must begin to look at issues we are passionate about in a different light, and explore ways to build solutions. Suppose for next year’s “Wear Purple Spirit Day” the event would encourage people to not only wear purple, but also write/email their senators and representatives to urge them to support the rights of LGBTs. The event would take the next step from symbolic support to clear action.


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