It takes more than social media to make a social movement

Hayley Tsukayama in the Washington Post: “President Trump may have used the power of social media to make his way into the White House, but now social media networks are showing that muscle can work for his opposition, too. Last week, more than 1 million marchers went to Washington and cities around the country — sparked by a Facebook post from one woman with no history of activism. This weekend, the Internet exploded again in discussion about Trump’s travel suspension order, and many used social media to get together and protest the decision.

Twitter said that more than 25 million tweets were sent about the order — as compared with 12 million about Trump’s inauguration. Facebook said that its users generated 151 million “likes, posts, comments and shares” related to the ban, less than the 208 million interactions generated about the inauguration. The companies didn’t reveal how many of those were aimed at organizing, but the social media calls to get people to protest are a testament to the power of these platforms to move people.

The real questionhowever, is whether this burgeoning new movement can avoid the fate of many so others kick-started by the power of social networks — only to find that it’s much harder to make political change than to make a popular hashtag….

Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who has written a forthcoming book on the power and fragility of movements borne of social media, found in her research that the very ability for these movements to scale quickly is, in part, why they also can fall apart so quickly compared with traditional grass-roots campaigns….

Now, organizers can bypass the time it takes to build up the infrastructure for a massive march and all the publicity that comes with it. But that also means their high-profile movements skip some crucial organizing steps.

“Digitally networked movements look like the old movements. But by the time the civil rights movement had such a large march, they’d been working on [the issues] for 10 years — if not more,” Tufekci said. The months or even years spent discussing logistics, leafleting and building a coalition, she said, were crucial to the success of the civil rights movements. Other successful efforts, such as the Human Rights Campaign’s efforts to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy against allowing gay people to serve openly in the military were also rooted in organization structures that had been developing and refining their demands for years to present a unified front. Movements organized over social networks often have more trouble jelling, she said, particularly if different factions air their differences on Facebook and Twitter, drawing attention to fractures in a movement….(More).”