How Protesters Use Social Media to Reimagine Witnessing and Co-Presence

re:publica Dublin 2016


In this talk, I focus on the impact of the increased use of internet and communication technology by protest participants on the phenomena of co-presence and witnessing during large-scale political and civil protests. Using interviews and observations from the field during the 2013-14 Euromaidan protest in Ukraine, I examine how the affordances of online social media and networked video services change participants' understanding of what it means to be co-present and to bear witness. 

While many citizens recognize the potential of the internet and digital technology for civic and political action, it is important to understand whether citizens perceive these technologies affording them different, augmented modes of co-presence and witnessing, making these activities central to how individuals and communities experience mass protest events. My research shows that social media and networked video technology afforded protesters new ways to think about the meaning of “being present” and “being together” within the protest movement, as well as made even part-time participation meaningful through the creation of logistical, emotional, and symbolic "connective tissue" between individuals and groups. I also find that the "real-time" temporal nature of social media and live video streams, combined with the archival possibilities of these platforms, allowed people not only to be participants in the protest, but also simultaneously to bear witness to it and be the audience that witnessing was directed at, making sense of what they saw and heard. The experience of the event and its story/narrative enmeshed and became one, complicating the process of witnessing historic events by entangling offline and online components, thus creating a possibility of multiple protest histories

These shifts in how protest participants understand and talk about co-presence and witnessing through the lens of digital technology affordances embedded in protest activity contribute to the notion of Ukraine's Euromaidan (and, increasingly, other urban mediated protests) as augmented protest, wherein the augmentation comes by way of the offline and the online extending into each other and beyond the sum of the two.

Merchants Arch Pub
Donnerstag, 20. Oktober 2016 - 15:00 bis 15:45