If you are interested in how social media is being used and understood by activists’ movements around the world, then Symon Hill’s book Digital Revolutions is a clear and concise introduction. From #tag activism to the complex political, economic and nationalistic dynamics of the Arab Spring, Hill charts a path through some of the main dilemmas facing political and civic activism in the age of Twitter, Facebook and social media networks. Hill starts by stating that his core principle and conviction is that “liberation comes from below and never from above” (Hill, 2013, p. 15), and that “however much we discuss technology, let’s not do so in a way that leads us to forget the slums in Egypt, the soup kitchens in Greece or the newly present food banks in Britain” (Hill, 2013, p. 26).
Hill isn’t an open-ended optimist, as some of the internet and digital networked society evangelists have a tendency to be. Instead Hill grounds his ideas and his examples in the reality of social change that won’t be won through online media campaigns alone, but only when they turn into popular movements for change. The UK Uncut movement is given prominence in Hill’s account, free from hyperbole and rhetoric. It is good to note how Hill points out that “social media is a tool rather than a cause of social change.” Facebook and Twitter, according to Hill “did not overthrow Ben Ali or Murbarak, any more than the printing press overthrew Charles I” (Hill, 2013, p. 81).
What I was particularly drawn to is Hill’s unequivocal rejection of transactional forms of hierarchy within much of Western social and civic life. According to Hill “we need to appreciate the importance of the rejection of hierarchy” (Hill, 2013, p. 97), and therefore give some thought and energy to thinking through what the alternatives might be. This is something that I am intensely sympathetic with. The challenge, if we accept Hill’s argument and look forward to the emerging forms of social organisation, is how we can prepare people to act as mindful and reflexive citizens who have the skills and the sense of self-awareness and self-confidence that allows them to claim their entitlement to participation in our shared social life?
To understand how networks of peers and co-developers and citizens can gain through collective action for the benefit of the wider community, rather than simply clawing for personal, partial and financial advantage, is a worth challenge for all.
Hill, S. (2013). Digital Revolutions – Activism in the Internet Age. Oxford: New Internationalist Publications.
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