Executive Summary

Social Media: the Expansion of the Public Sphere and the Engagement of Citizen Journalism

On January 10, 1776, in the midst of an American Revolution, under the name of an English man, a 48-page pamphlet  titled “Common Sense” describing the corrosive nature of  British monarch rule and the importance of “liberty, freedom and property of all men was printed in a small print shop tucked into the streets of Philadelphia. Over the course of a year, 150,000 copies of “Common Sense” were reprinted and sold across the Thirteen (agitated) Colonies. When commenting on the success of the concise parchment, the author Thomas Paine replied: “I shall therefore avoid every literary ornament and put it in language as plain as the alphabet” (Starr 68).

The spirit of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” and the endeavor of the diffusion of knowledge that engages the public sphere for social change carries on today. As the public sphere, according to Starr, is the “social space of public information, public knowledge, public debate, and public opinion” (Starr 45) , the circulation of information is in the hands of citizens. Two hundred fifty years ago, the printing press enabled the engagement of the Colonial citizen to write and express ideas of revolution-- today, the global order is rocked by the advent of inter-web social media.

Enter The Velvet Carbine Project. Velvet- stemming from the Velvet Revolution- the only peaceful revolution that split 2 states without a single death in the name of protest. And then Carbine- a type gun. This paradox illustrates how complex social media is. Although 'nonviolent' objectively- words on the internet can not cause bodily damage- the effects of social media in the context of social movements is powerful and potent, dynamic yet digital, intimate yet international. Thus-The VELVET CARBINE PROJECT. This academic experiment is an amalgamation of media analysis with a mission to raise questions of the utilization of interweb social media in political and social campaigns. Set up by a team of passionate scholars, the authors involved are intellectually and personally invested in the causes that they have chosen as case studies. Ranging from a list of diverse movements such as the Earth Day Network’s campaign: A Billion Acts of Green, social network reporting on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base controversy, India’s Anti-Corruption Movement, as well as the Egyptian April 6th Revolution, the team of media analysts- Venessa Buenconsejo, Cynthia Galston, Priyanka Srinivasa, and Cornelia Poku assess the role of networking sites and social movements. Through original research and analyzing social media primary sources, the members of the Velvet Carbine have compiled the following four papers, each with distinct case studies and theses on the role of social media in activism.

This new media forum consisting of sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Youtube provide a forum for the sharing of ideas. Members involved in active interaction become 'activists' and 'journalists' in their own right. Citizen journalism is the active participation of individuals who are not professionally hired by media outlets, but provide and diffuse information nonetheless. Thus, citizen journalism disseminates more knowledge to the public sphere. The overarching theme of the four papers focused on citizen use of networking sites as a marketing tool for social movements and change, though each paper focused on a plethora of arguments pertaining to a certain case study.

Cornelia Poku researches news articles and scholarly writings of social change prior to the advent of internet and social media. Poku also conducts an interview with Egyptian revolutionist Waleed Rashed to provide further evidence of her thesis that social media cannot be credited for the Arab Spring or any other social revolution. The paper specifically targets the American Revolution and the Civil Rights movement as different social revolutions in history that employed marketing and public relations strategies to fulfill their goals. Using information from the revolutionist himself, the paper then proceeds to break down the Egyptian revolution’s use of marketing and public relations to demonstrate that Facebook and Twitter were only elements of public relations/marketing rather than the reason for the success of the revolution.

Similar to Poku’s thesis- the use of social media as marketing of ideas to engage the public sphere, Priyanka Srinivasa’s analysis of Youtube and the Anti-Corruption movement suggests a turning point in India’s Anti- Corruption Movement with the use of viral video to gain support in India and globally. In Srinivasa’s paper “Anna Hazare in 4.35 Minutes: Viral Video and the Reassessment of Revolution” the author examines how a viral video shot in Tihar Prison which allowed 84-year-old Anna Hazare the leader of the movement to establish pathos and gain support from the public sphere by speaking directly to a global audience in the context of an intimate setting. Srinivasa translated and evaluated body language, semantics, as well what Youtube signifies in Indian Youth culture. Srinivasa in her conclusion proposes how viral video could be a future space for social causes because of its dynamic, uncensored, and creative format that is both intimate with its simple format, yet able to penetrate the public sphere.

In Cynthia Galston’s paper, the thesis studied the evolution of the opinion of Guantanamo Bay through social media. In 2001, when Guantanamo Bay detention center was created, not many people knew what was going on. And if they did they didn’t publicize it. However after the press started to get a hold of stories, they published them and the public became aware. Once people realized what was happening and who exactly was being held at Gitmo, campaigns started to arise. These campaigns were put on news media outlets such as Facebook and twitter. By creating a forum where all of the information is right there for the reader, the public became more and more aware of what was going on at Gitmo. For example the Facebook group London Guantanamo Campaign has brought awareness to the British detainees who are being held indefinitely without rights.

Vanessa Buenconsejo’s research focused on the use of social media as a platform to spread awareness of environmental issues facing our globe today. To do so, Buenconsejo chose to study Earth Day Network's campaign entitled 'Billion Acts of Green." This is the largest environmental service of its kind. Using modern technology and social media outlets, Earth Day Network utilizes the far-reaching effects, such as twitter, to broaden, mobilize people from all over the Earth to support their cause. Buenconsejo’s original research has shown how the Earth Day Network's use of Twitter has gained followers, brought together supporters, and informed civilians to further its message and cause. By joining Twitter's public sphere, the message of 'Billion Acts of Green' was able to diffuse itself among the masses of people who use Twitter for business, advertisement, or sheer amusement. With the nature of social media being open to just about anyone who has access to the internet, the push for environmental awareness was not just contained to a certain group of people but for anyone who could read.

With the compilation of the case studies, the team of passionate scholars have collectively suggested as to how interweb social media is shaping our day to day interactions and the global order in terms of activism: networking sites are not a catalyst for revolution. It is through the passions and dedication of citizens that carry out the message of change. But it is the very method of diffusion that has ‘revolutionized’. Each of these social media platforms such as twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have democratic qualities in the sense that anyone who has a mobile phone or a computer has the ability to write about their opinion and their direction of change. Interweb social media is limitless, simple to use, creative, and powerful. It is both intimate: a site can be displayed on a singular screen and the ‘activist’ or ‘journalist’ has the ability to upload and diffuse his or her message yet at the same time a single message can catch on and spread across the world. As seen in our case studies, because of its democratic quality, interweb social media has been able to penetrate through the public sphere (even ones as convoluted and dense as India’s diversity). This is precisely the method of diffusion that Thomas Paine valued: democratic press that is a simple platform so that no  singular class of individuals are the only ones empathetic to the message; good media is accessible media. Good media transcends the walls set up by linguistic, regional, socio-economic, gender, ethnic, and religious identity. Good media is both intimate and global. Good media captivates.

Now it is your chance. Go ahead- start a revolution. In 140 characters or less.

In peace,

From the Academic Activists of The Velvet Carbine.
Priyanka Srinivasa
Cornelia Poku
Vanessa Buenconsejo
Cynthia Galston

Works Cited

Starr, Paul. The creation of the media: political origins of modern communications. New York:

Basic Books, 2004. Print.