A large part of the discussion today was regarding social change and social movements in the digital age, the era of facebook, the high tide of Web 2.0, the days of social networking websites and connectivity. Interesting discussions touched many subjects, especially looking at the turbulent few years since 2010; mass demonstrations, upheavals, in many ways influenced by social media. Organising done through facebook, twitter, etc. instead of the formalised channels of existing organisations and NGOs. There are voices who claim that social movements have changed considerably in this day and age, that older forms of organising are less relevant now. However, the meeting asked critical questions regarding this.
The term “McChange” was used to illustrated instances of “clictivism“, of awareness through “likes“, and how these things really bring about change or not. There is focus on individuals who achieve things, while any social change is a collective act; sad stories evoke pity; personal stories, and shocking images are used as amplifiers, and often go viral, but can such pity produce positive change? Yes, there is more awareness that goes around, but is it sustainable? Stories and causes on the internet come and go, and are as easily forgotten as “liked” on facebook.
New terms are establishing itself: social entrepreneurs, social design, etc.; we speak of tipping points, and critical mass. There is a sense of rethinking “change” in the fast moving landscape of online social networks. But does that mean that older structures are now obsolete? And are we really doing things different in the online spaces, as opposed to how things used to be done? Did the underlying concepts of how social transformation works radically change or not? And if it changed, what is the context in which this change happens?
I believe that there justifiably is criticism of the formalised structures (NGOs and the like), professionalisation of activism has in some cases turned out for the worse, with fights over resources and job/income security of such employed and professional activists being a driving force. But when we look at the fast moving social organising online, sometimes it can equally feel like “activism for activism’s sake.”
In all cases, through online or offline means, the critical question needs to be asked: for whom is the change, and who identifies the change; often whom the change is for is not who identifies it. In any case, social media cannot be ignored any longer in social movements, and dialogue around it needs to increase; established organisations and activists need understand that there is no ownership of social movements, and social awareness needs to be thought of in terms of long term sustainability.