Activism in the age of viral reality
Activism in the age of viral reality: a social media ethnography (article in progress)
This article draws from ongoing research into digital activism in Barcelona (Spain) to assess the limits and possibilities of ‘social media ethnography’. I explore a new area of media ethnographic inquiry, namely the study of activist/political ‘virals’ – digital contents of a political nature that spread epidemically across platforms and social groups. Through the case study of a late December 2010 mobilisation against the ‘Sinde law’ – a proposed Spanish law intended to curtail the downloading of copyrighted contents – I discuss the varied uses of Twitter as a central political arena. Throughout the short-lived drama, activists, politicians, celebrities and others used Twitter to inform, disinform, debate, provoke, mock… and spread virals. Under such conditions, questions arise about the ethnographic study of the socio-technical contexts that foster and inhibit the spread of digital virals, and about the extent to which virals strengthen or undermine public discourse. One intriguing question is whether we are witnessing the emergence of an era in which political reality is framed by widely shared tweets, YouTube videos, viral campaigns, and so on – an age of viral reality.