Session Notes: Social movements and social media in Latin America (and elsewhere!)

Donna Martinez, note taker
Janet Gunter, facilitator

Social movements: people in community/geographic space come together to communicate and act together (sometimes without dependence on telecommunications). The person-to-person aspect of social organizing in Latin America. Social movements are not professional, like NGOs often are, but instead drawing on people’s passion and need to organize.

Example: Housing movement/Squatters in São Paulo (Portuguese: Ocupação, Spanish: Tomas, invasiones).

Janet’s agency has been working in long-term partnerships in Latin America (e.g. Chile, Brazil, etc).

In São Paulo there are tens of thousands of people living on the streets, and tenements – but tons of buildings in the city remain vacant, many of those own more back taxes to government than the value of the buildings. Social movements occupy buildings to force public authorities to take action and provide housing for the poorest, these are social movements with political objectives and strong ideological l motivation. Culture in method of meeting, of resisting together and protest.

This in a context of elite-owned mainstream media making out social movement members as criminals.

Janet’s agency asked housing movement about using the internet, new media and how to incorporate into existing forms of organizing. Initially, technology was not readily accepted and seen as tool of the elite or the powers that be… (But this has changed over time and with more accompaniment and support…)

1st Question - what is experience of the group – how does a strong social movement culture that distrusts or does not see the value of social media start to change?

Bangladesh (Faizul)
– Activists used social media to promote justice for past crimes, censorship. In Bangladesh, the time for this issue and social media is ripe.

Brazil (Janet)
– End of dictatorship and democratization (1980s) as origin of social movements today – is resistance to new tools a generational issue?

Mexico (?)
– Big companies are allies of big government and seeking to dominate social media – Twitter messages increased now government attempting to institute laws to prohibit/censor. FB and Twitter good means to express freedom of expression. This will most likely cause a backlash and further interest social movements in using social media.

Hong Kong (Oiwan)
– case of Nepali migrants using phone like radio. VoIP like bridges old tech to new tech. Radio links to phone and then to internet.

Police killed Nepali migrant – emblematic case – local Hong Kong activists became interested in the issue then accessed information through the phone/radio/internet link. Became Human Rights violation rights case. Illustrates the power of a strong incident to foster networking between isolated social movements and groupings.

Puerto Rico (Firuzeh)
Women's movements easily access and get their messages heard in mainstream media, as they are middle class movement educated individuals with good contacts. Research of how women's movement is using media– they were not using internet to get their message out – using blogs in public spaces. Rather they were using closed listservs for consensus building and creating trust and strength within the movement. The email listserv was used as a “safe” space and community building space. We must not discount the ongoing role of email listservs in social movements, even if they do not fit our mold of “social media”.

Chile (various)
- Technology not easy in social movements. In Chile, Social movements are often related to territorial issues – local issues. Women's movement strong to legalize the morning after pill. Environmental problems (more dams/electric development), political movements. Sometimes NGOs can serve as catalysts or help social movements to think about using new technology.

The Mapuche movement appear permanently depicted as terrorists in the mainstream media. They are using radio via internet not commercial/traditional or microradio. But people need internet to have listen. There is a question about how best to integrate traditional media, like community radio, and internet and new media.

2nd question:
How does use of social media and internet help social movement’s ability to influence and better traditional media coverage?

“Digital generation” using photoblogs, e.g. use of photos were essential in the Penguin Movement 2006 in Chile to prevent cuts in funding for education. The movement, made of kids and youth, managed the press coverage really well. It was an organic, horizontal movement, with no real specific leader – all had equal voice. It included a special committee/group on communication. The movement was able to “move the needle” – achieve policy change – but has subsequently fizzled.

Municipal Civil Servants Union and Biblioredes in Chile: Experience all the way to the end of Chile, Punta Arenas. Initially, people didn’t know how to use the technology, but the Municipal Civil Servants Union has used the government’s Biblio-redes national internet project to organize.

People in the Unions have started teaching other women in the community how to use the internet, so the social organizing has had a rippling effect. Union members are part of the community and link to others.

3rd question: Where there key elements/champions that made it happen? Especially in relation to the Union and the Penguinos?

In Chile, people like to communicate and now the tech and provide them a means to communicate/connect – not a generational issue

The infrastructure – the government’s creation of free internet centers in libraries all across the country was key

Brazil (Janet)
– social media – many who are working poor are on Orkut but not using this for social organizing except at the most local level – perhaps there is a need a moment/turning point to mobilization

Uruguay (Pablo)
Computers were given to teachers were resistant and didn't want to use. The teachers did not use the media to organize. Use only tends to develop when there is a sense of urgency. Unions must have internal communication and then be able to disperse the message.

A blog may be easy technologically easy to start but to develop it for impact is more challenging, including video and photos. Would be interesting to foster a community to support technical development of social media with social movements.

Oiwan – Media activists attached to NGOs but not directly (social agents) act like amoebas, pulling out NGO resources out, and working with movements to disseminate through their own networks of intermediates and to the outside.

Last question – (kind of unanswered) – But is an occasional event like an online mobilization is not capable of being replicating – how to sustain? What happened afterward? Did the needle move?

After issue is highlighted with spontaneous online mobilization, the NGOs and social movements can pick up the issue and sustains

People to people part essential

Key points

“Bridging” needed in terms of finding technology and people that are comfortable and familiar to social movements

Integration of older forms of communication (i.e. community radio and print)

The importance of online communication – and older forms like email listservs – for internal consensus building and coordination among social movements

Emphasizing the liberating aspects of production of messages and material by members of movements THEMSELVES (revisit Paulo Freire's concepts of Pedagogy of the Oppressed?)

Social media tends to surge and gain support in moments of crisis or urgency

The role of governments and NGOs in providing infrastructure and spaces for discovery and innovation. NGOs especially have a role in proposing a more strategic use of social media and internet

Media activists as “amoebas” – there is a huge role for media activists as links between social movements and NGOs/institutions

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