Why Protests Driven by Social Media Struggle to Have Effect

Zeynep Tufecki explains how movements on Facebook and Twitter are more fragile because they start online.

May 10, 2017 8:57 am

From Black Lives Matter to the Arab Spring, protest movements spurred by social media and online furor have mostly failed to materialize into the change demanded by its participants.

While Facebook and Twitter can help gain attention for a cause and organize mass groups of people, social media also tends to make their movement more susceptible to what Zeynep Tufecki calls “tactical freeze.” The UNC-Chapel Hill professor is the author of Twitter and Teargas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest.

Digitally-connected protesters can use social media as a force multiplier but lack the collective decision-making system needed to take the next step once a protest movement gains public attention.

In an interview with MIT Technology Review, Tufecki discusses how web-fueled protests get stuck. She also explains that governments have gotten better at distracting movements online to maintain the status quo. Disinformation has become the 21st-century form of censorship since blocking information completely has become hard to do.

“The Chinese government, for example, is really good at understanding how you can confuse or distract people with other information on social media and hopefully paralyze them so that they don’t know what’s true or false and just give up,” Tufecki tells the publication.

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