The recent events in the North of Africa and also in Europe have thrown the discussion over the influence of Social Media and Social Networking sites in this new social movements, that seem to be quite spontaneous and horizontal, with and incredible capacity of self-organization that remembers the network paradigm of coordination without centres.
I have been very skeptical about this kind of analysis. First, because it seems naive and simplistic to say that these revolutions happened because of Facebook or Twitter, as if the tools make the change for themselves. In these countries there have been resistance movements and activists working hard for a political change for a long time: they are the main protagonists. Secondly, because I didn’t think that this kind of tools are (i’m talking specifically about Fb, Twt, Ytb, Flk, etc) not enabled to coordinate the complex organization. Thirdly, because I made a tiny research on Facebook in the case of Egypt in which I found that the Fb-pages with more fans were that ones with an institutional character, like the Army or political parties’s Fb-pages; instead of those that seem to connect better with the spontaneous social mobilization against the regime, like “We all are Khaleb”.
Nevertheless, I have to admit that Social Media an Social Networks paradigm have a lot to do with this kind of new reticular social movements. First of all, because the capacity to spread alternative information, discourses, and appeals for mobilization have been exponentially increased on the hands of the people. Secondly, because there is a new paradigm in social dynamics and culture, something that expresses better in youth cultures. It’s difficult to describe… but it seems that horizontal relations, spontaneity and reticular interactions are more and more common nowadays, as the hierarchic relations losses relevance. And thirdly, because these changes in the media model have a deep influence in the whole social system, introducing new ways of thinking and acting.
Furthermore, this discussion has an important ideological background: as the Social Networking Sites are mostly managed by US corporations, their relevance in these social movements is inevitably linked to the opinion that we have on their role in spreading US governmental interests and ideologies (that is to say liberalism and capitalist culture). So the ones that are aligned with US values and interests are more likely to stress the importance of the Social Networking Sites in the promotion of positive social change, but the ones that don’t trust these US corporation interests are more inclined to criticize the role of these tools or even to mistrust the real meaning of the social changes that happened, for instance, in the North or Africa.
Anyway, there’s no doubt that the media paradigm has changed and the main actors of the new system (governments, corporations, activists, etc) are still taking positions in this new era, in which the power of information and communication tools seems to be the decisive factor in the definition of social structure and dynamics. But to get a good picture of the changes and the new invisible rules, we have to remain impartial about the interests in the balance and to discern about the different dimensions of social reality.