IAMCR OCS, IAMCR 2011 - Istanbul

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The online protest ecology: exploring the tensions among multiple internet technologies for activism
Emiliano Treré

Last modified: 03-06-2011

Abstract


Studies on social movements and activism online have usually focused on ‘particular’ portions of the internet, such as web sites (della Porta and Mosca, 2005; Stein, 2009; Van Aelst and Walgrave, 2004), mailing lists (Kavada, 2010; Wall, 2007), blogs (Cammaerts, 2008), online groups (Ayres, 2003), etc.
These studies have provided us with powerful frames and useful tools to investigate the relationships between activism and ICTs. However, there is a tendency in this scholarship to replicate the same 'bias' that some authors (McCurdy, 2009; Mattoni, 2009) have ascribed to the general literature that have investigated the dynamics between social movements and the media: the focus on only one medium at a time.
The aim of this paper is to overcome this bias, by disaggregating the internet into its diversity of technologies and uses (Slater, 2002) highlighting the tensions and complementarities among multiple online technologies and platforms. Drawing on a qualitative research (involving both individual and group semi-structured interviews, participant observation and qualitative content analysis) which explored the media practices of a student collective from the University of Bologna, part of the Italian 'Anomalous Wave' movement, it will be shown that activists interact with a complex online protest ecology. Adopting an actor-centred perspective with a focus on internet-related practices, it will be pointed out that to better grasp the relationships between activists and the internet it is of pivotal importance to situate the analysis of a particular technology inside a more general exploration of the whole online protest ecology. By doing so, we can appreciate the continuous negotiations and strategies of resistance which activists employ across multiple technologies and provide more nuanced understandings of the mediation of protest, avoiding the 'one medium bias' that can lead researchers to put too much attention on the 'next big thing' for activism.