Workshop 06 – activism

Activism and media stories

This is activism!

Watch Video

Benedict Cumberbatch giving a speech for refugees from Syria after Hamlet
Duration: (2:39)
User: Finding Audrey – Added: 14/10/15


In order to talk about activism we need to define it first. What does activism mean and how do digital media technologies shape the way stories, issues are transmitted?



Activism in general refers to efforts to promote, circumvent, or direct change or stasis – social, political, economic and/or environmental. Those changes can be led by individuals but mostly groups initiating social movements. Activist actions range from letter writing to boycotts, marches, strikes, sit-ins and others. Some are physical some virtual and we are concentrating today on the virtual part of activism – how social media is used to engage the public and create collective action.

Activism springs from tensions within global societies. For Marx, Ferguson and Smith tensions originate in the distinction between Market and private sphere (market interests vs. private interests), for Gramsci, Hegel and others in the distinction between politics and public sphere (political interests of governments vs. public demands). Civil society groups (activist groups) or individual activists can become a threat to established societal orders – political and economic order. Unfortunately in global liberal societies a clear distinction between markets and politics can hardly be made, political change originates in market demands and economic change might follow political pressure (Lipschutz, R. in De Jong et al eds., 2005: 23). Ethics fall into the debate as well – the development of shared ethical considerations with different societies subscribing to different ethical principles (ibid: 32). Politics is about changing ethical debates – it’s a collective action as we live together. Globalisation extends ethical debates outside nation states into global political networks.

Example: human rights debates in Saudi Arabia

Britain conducted secret vote-trading deals with Saudi Arabia to ensure both states were elected to the UN human rights council (UNHRC), according to leaked diplomatic cables. This week, a new diplomatic row has erupted over a Shia activist, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, who faces death by crucifixion after being convicted at the age of 17 of joining an anti-government demonstration.(


Saudi prince Khalid bin Faisal bin Abdulaziz welcomes David Cameron in 2012. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Ditching the prison consultancy project – public outrage

Activists and activist groups influence mainstream media and in doing so change global as well as local ethical, political debates. We have on one hand the activism industry – organisations and individuals paid to undertake work in non-for-profit, non-governmental organisations such as amnesty international, on the other we have also smaller community-led actions to save e.g. parks from being redeveloped. So activism is not always big scale led by activists but can also include people acting on behalf of organisations or for their own immediate issues. Activism springs from controversies – different viewpoints (Martin, B. 2014 ) and changing ideas. Take a recent case Tara Hudson – a transgender woman sent to a male prison. Her mum started a campaign fearing for her daughters well-being in a male prison. What is the controversy? What has changed as well? General ideas about gender, equality and overall tolerance and acceptance.

What are the big local issues at the moment in Britain? Where do people disagree? Any petitions signed in regards to this lately? Why did you sign it?

~ mostly human rights and fairness = about our values – differ on a global but also local scale

Task 1

If you have brought your own story in discuss otherwise use the examples here:

  1. Who is behind the campaign an organisation or individual?

  2. What is the big issue addressed here? What are the values attached to it?

  3. Is it a global or local issues? How do you know?

Constructing stories

Watch Video

WaterAid – ‘No Choice’ Urgent TV appeal
Duration: (1:36)
User: WaterAid – Added: 05/10/11

Water aid current commercial – issue and solution – asking for donations – simple story – simple solution.

Some stories do not ask explicitly for donations but more importantly signatures – taken serious/show public demand and concern – add to government debates (PESTICIDES)

We have two parties not agreeing with one another.

Arguments pro and contra pesticides – how would you argue?




Abolish pesticides

Use pesticides




Decision making

Distinct and well-defined sides are the result. There are usually no moderate in-betweeners – climate change – evidence-research-led campaigns. Interesting to look at economic as well as political connections in those debates.

Simple story – simple solution – add your signature  = align people behind issues. We usually create two very polarised sites – government/corporation vs people.

Task 2

Look at you own story again:

  1. Who is not agreeing with whom (or was)?

  2. How is the story constructed?

  3. How are arguments supported?

Media technology

Media, politics, markets are global and not just since the event of the internet and social media. Social movements, and activism equally cannot be restrained or discussed within nation’s borders but need to be looked at on a global scale.

Historically we have national media institutions like the BBC in the UK answering to national demands and being held accountable through fees. Despite seeing those more and more corroding they are still strong one-way communication channels for organisations such as amnesty international, water aid, Oxfam – the global activism industry leaders. TV ads address global issues but you need money to do this – money many campaigners do not have especially when we talk about local issues. Those campaigns are also carefully planned and long established.

Task 3

Compare Oxfam with Long Live Southbank

1. Oxfam – people locked in poverty – support via donations (money, clothes, etc. – shop network)

2. Skaterpark Southbank – keep Southbank open for Skater – cultural community space

  1. Who against who?

  2. How are controversies carried out?

  3. What kind of values are we looking at? Any economic or political gain?

  4. Do you think social media changes(d) opinions?

Social media – twitter and facebook good to organise resistance quick if you can get enough people interested. It is good to raise awareness but also to organise protest on the spot. Social media specially twitter has been associated with organising protests and resistance but can you actually achieve change through social media alone? Looking at the climate change protests in Segerberg and Bennett’s example twitter was used to organise and publicize the protest before and on the spot (see Segerberg and Bennett, 2011). Hashtags were used by both the conference organisers as well as the protesters. This article looks very much into roles of social technologies as organizing mechanisms (as organizational agents), and the traces of these technologies that may reflect larger organizational schemes in a protest ecology (as windows). Hashtags show trending topics – they disappear slow down over time like #JeSuisCharlie, some might return. LLSB turned into or started as twitter account and facebook page. In Segerberg and Bennett’s example

#thewave was successfully harnessed as an amplifying mobilization and publicity resource by a set of central actors, #cop15 indicated how more self-organizing streams may seek resources in different ways from organization-centered ones

(Segerberg and Bennett, 2009: 212).

It highlights the importance of actors and action in protest and campaigning.

Task 4

Write a coherent blog entry of at least 2 paragraphs about your example.

Use the notes you have made during the other tasks.

Add a discussion about the technology(ies) used.

Activism and slacktivism

Campaigning and other forms of online activism compete with other media over short attention spanned audiences. Internet time – demands instant replies, messages, updates to stay in public focus – stressful as reflections need time – simplistic stories that secure support – activists spend more time online trying to reach audiences than actually doing ground work.

Task 5:

Write a short summary of this article and explain what Morosov is talking about here.

Read this article as well.

Formulate and add your own opinion at the end.

Do you agree/disagree with his argument and why?

Platforms for change:

UK government campaigns page: engage with electorate?

what do those platforms do?

Task 5:

Select one of the platforms below and click the start a petition button. Don’t add to this site but use the fields to create a petition for something you would campaign for. watch the video

  1. What is the format you are using?

  2. What do all platforms ask you to do and why?

  3. Is that a form of slacktivism?



The communication review

Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication


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