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BEERG Newsletter - Social Media: It is organising that counts

Some years ago, knowing that I was interested in the effect of social media on labour relations, a colleague suggested that I read Zeynep Tufekci’s Twitter and Teargas, a first-hand witness account of the role social media had played in such events as Tahir Square and Occupy Wall Street. 

A sociologist, Tufekci (photo) saw social media as ushering in a new wave of political protest, giving creative and exciting tools to those who wished to challenge the status quo.

When I finished the book my reaction was: “So what? Sure, the immediacy and reach of social media can help organise a demonstration in a heartbeat and broadcast it to the world in a nanosecond. But, as the saying goes: when the lights go down, what happens next?

Change requires hard work, slog, hours of meetings, planning. In a word, organising, and organising requires long-term commitment. Social media protest just happens in the here and now, with no backstory, and, in all likelihood, no future. Like a storm at sea, it blows fierce. And then it blows out. Tufekci has now come to the same conclusion. In an article for the New York Times she writes:

As I studied many of these movements, I noticed more common patterns. The quickly sprung large movements often floundered for direction once the inevitable pushback came. They didn’t have the tools to navigate the treacherous next phase of politics, because they hadn’t needed to build them to get there.

In the past, a truly big march was the culmination of long-term organizing, an exclamation mark at the end of a sentence, indicating prior planning and strength. Large numbers of people had gotten together and worked for a long time, coordinating, preparing — and getting to know one another and making decisions. So they didn’t just manage to hold a protest; lacking easier ways to organize, they ended up having to build organizational capacity, which then helped navigate what came after.

Protest for change has to be organised or it is nothing. You can’t negotiate with Twitter. Let the storm blow out. But be prepared for the storm. 

The impact of social media on labour and employee relations is one of the topics we discuss on our Fundamentals of Global Labor Relations program, next running in December.

Published on: July 27, 2022

Authors: Tom Hayes

Topics: Technology, The UK and European Union

Tom Hayes

Director of European Union and Global Labor Affairs, HR Policy Association

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