Everyday, anywhere across the globe, you can guarantee that someone somewhere is standing up for all they hold dear. Just earlier this month in Tbilisi, Georgia, following brutal raids of nightclubs normally providing a safe haven for party-goers, a huge crowd took to the streets to protest the senseless crackdown. In a moment of beautifully organic passion, the protest, later developing into a rave in front of the state parliament, was both moving and incredibly raw. Phone video clips could be seen on practically everyone’s Facebook feed across Europe.
In January 2017, women marched in worldwide protest to advocate legislation and policies regarding human rights, women’s rights, immigration reform and healthcare among many other issues, forming one of the largest protests to date—protests organised and spread almost entirely through Facebook and Twitter. Just this week, hundreds of low-wage workers, faith leaders, civil rights organisers and liberal activists were arrested as activists resumed the work Martin Luther King left unfinished. Kicking off 40 days of non-violent protest, this stand, marking 50 years since King launched The Poor People’s Campaign, aimed to bring great economic equality and lessen militarism and racial injustice.
In the arts, the power of protest and social media as a medium in promoting protest continues to be ever-present. With artists protesting issues such as racial injustice, violent and violation of human rights, for instance in Donald Glover’s stunning new video This is America as Childish Gambino, passionate demonstration continues to drive us towards better times. Protest remains alive, spirits and hope intact.
Today, social networking sites are often the main ingredient in facilitating protest and directing unrest. From protesting Trump to austerity, human rights or merely the right to protest, a demonstration is only a click away. Protesters are able to coalesce around particular keywords, while sympathetic audiences are able to follow events in real time. With recordings plastered over Facebook and YouTube, you can participate and feel involved near or from afar. Video especially is integral to people’s understanding of the issues present beforehand, their experiences during the protest itself and spreading of the results after.
One of the most prominent examples is in the initiation and presentation of the Black Lives Matter protests, organised as a response to US police shootings of unarmed black individuals in 2014. Now a global movement fighting to end systematic violence against people of colour, social media have been integral to the spread of the movement and providing presentations of the issues and protests without censorship from press. With news reports initially downplaying the incidents, the reach of Twitter, in particular, allowed people to go there themselves and spread firsthand accounts, in some instances reaching even further than the news. As a result, the corporate media’s attempt to sway the situation to the benefit of the police and hurry to the next story was interrupted by social media.
But is the use of social media in protest truly and solely a positive phenomenon? Sitting down with Anna Abrahams, programmer of the EYE Filmmuseum’s ongoing theme 1968: You Say You Want a Revolution, some of the limitations of this network-centric approach to protest come to light. While one of our greatest facilitating mediums, social media and the data they provide can offer the state a multitude of resources to extend its reach and ensure political order. Indeed, recent studies suggest that social media networks, in combination with internal emails have been used to monitor the Black Lives Matter movement.
Abrahams furthers this, emphasising how, while promoting protest, social media can “take away the sting, it takes away the danger”. Furthermore, while it can be argued that live videos and social media coverage presents protest more honestly, Abrahams stresses how, when film was the only medium to hand, more thought had to go into what was being produced: “film was quite expensive so people had to think a little longer about what they were putting on camera.”
However, this by no means diminishes the role of film or social media in the present day. The phone sitting in your hand has the ability to spread ideology and knowledge and stir the masses before an event, live stream during, and report uncensored accounts of events after. In the masses of today’s disenfranchised iGeneration, the opportunity to play an active part provides a perimeter of hope around the things that matter the most.