Social media and the transformation of activist communication: exploring the social media ecology of the 2010 Toronto G20 protests

  • Poell T
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Abstract

How does the massive use of social media in contemporary protests affect the character of activist communication? Moving away from the conceptualization of social media as tools, this research explores how activist social media communication is entangled with and shaped by heterogeneous techno-cultural and political economic relations. This exploration is pursued through a case study on the social media reporting efforts of the Toronto Community Mobilization Network, which coordinated and facilitated the protests against the 2010 Toronto G-20 summit. The network urged activists to report about the protests on Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr, tagging their contributions #g20report. In addition, it set up a Facebook group and used a blog. The investigation, first, traces the hyperlink network in which the protest communication was embedded. The hyperlink analysis provides a window on the online ecology in which this communication unfolded. In addition, the examination interrogates how the particular technological architectures, related user practices, and business models of the various social platforms steered communication. This investigation shows that the use of social media brings about an acceleration of activist communication, and greatly enhances its visual character. Moreover, as activists massively embrace corporate social media, they increasingly lose control over the data they collective produce, as well as over the very architectures of the spaces through which they communicate.
How does the massive use of social media in contemporary protests affect the character of activist communication? Moving away from the conceptualization of social media as tools, this research explores how activist social media communication is entangled with and shaped by heterogeneous techno-cultural and political economic relations. This exploration is pursued through a case study on the social media reporting efforts of the Toronto Community Mobilization Network, which coordinated and facilitated the protests against the 2010 Toronto G-20 summit. The network urged activists to report about the protests on Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr, tagging their contributions #g20report. In addition, it set up a Facebook group and used a blog. The investigation, first, traces the hyperlink network in which the protest communication was embedded. The hyperlink analysis provides a window on the online ecology in which this communication unfolded. In addition, the examination interrogates how the particular technological architectures, related user practices, and business models of the various social platforms steered communication. This investigation shows that the use of social media brings about an acceleration of activist communication, and greatly enhances its visual character. Moreover, as activists massively embrace corporate social media, they increasingly lose control over the data they collective produce, as well as over the very architectures of the spaces through which they communicate.

Author-supplied keywords

  • activist communication
  • hyperlink analysis
  • political economy
  • social media
  • technological architectures

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