Social media has seen the peak of citizenship participation. It has challenged barriers to the full exercise of freedom of speech. What on one end is a platform for self-expression is a catalyst for community action on the other.
Social media has become a convenient internet street to where citizens actively take their issues and concerns without need for physical presence. With its reach across demographics and its access global, it quickly provides that virtual intersection at which ever-expanding and -increasing internet streets converge. And over a short period of time, social media influences what unfolds on the ground.
How fast did the Arab Spring muster the needed number from when calls for reforms were circulated online? Could it have been projected that New Yorkers would respond to the Occupy Wall Street campaign in such a way hours or days from when the call became popular on the internet? Would the same response time be achieved if the similar conditions were simulated as when typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) hit the Philippines where one post on Facebook encouraging people to offer free rides to homeless typhoon victims arriving at different ports in Metro Manila led to the Local Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board giving free bus rides from Tacloban to Manila to over a thousand?
Social media has become an effective tool in mobilizing people, calling for wider public support, and elevating a lobby for certain concerns on a global level. It adds that necessary push or pressure for resolution of issues and brings to the fore a new era of civic activism
In context, communication scholar John Downing (2008) wrote about how there is a shift in the focus on communication technology, particularly mass media, from its uses “to a greater emphasis on citizen, activist, or community engagement with issues and movements through the internet and related technologies”. What tended to be more concerned about the means by which communication was transmitted for political and cultural movements and campaigns has now given more importance to both sender and recipient. This acknowledges how technology today is continually defined by human’s changing preferences and dictated according to which best suits them at a certain time, that the decision on the form of media ideally has to ultimately be in accordance to the trend.
This concept of alternative/activist media can be attributed to the use of “tactical media”, which was popularized after the fall of communism in Europe as a way to infuse an element of public discourse in an otherwise artistic interpretation of dominant social, political, economic or cultural order, albeit short-term and temporary. Geert Lovink and David Garcia were two theorists behind the concept of tactical media. They argued, among others, that political activism can only be sustained when there is “smaller, episodic, nomadic, rapid-response moments of ‘resistance’, not revolution.”
Note the feature of “rapid-response moments of ‘resistance’” of tactical media. This gives rise to the issue of access to information and how such information can be used. The same also presupposes that public attention can easily be captured but that it can be diffused in the sense that it may not take place all in the same place.
This element of time that tactical media concerns itself with is the same element that this study endeavors to find meaning and relevance to. If tactical media is concerned about when and the length of time over which an artistic political or socio-cultural intervention happens, we need more studies that fill the gap left in terms of speed between when the intervention took place and when the desired action was materialized.
A few years later, Chris Atton distinguished alternative media and alternative internet, social media, in this context, from mainstream media. He described alternative media as participatory and empowering; and that “they combine both creative expression and social responsibility.” Alternative internet goes along the same lines; it merges the political and cultural. It is “a range of media projects, interventions and networks that work against, or seek to develop forms of, the dominant, expected (and broadly accepted) ways of ‘doing media.”
And social media’s intrusion in social, political, economic orders very well ride on Atton’s definitions of alternative media and alternative internet. It opens up space after space for the public to freely discuss issues which by nature are mostly oppositional or reform-oriented. True: social media holds great potential to change the world for the better, but the question always lies on the extent to which people utilize and accept social media as a development tool.