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Activism in the age of viral reality

January 28, 2011

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.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. January 28, 2011 6:11 pm

    EGYPT Protests 2011:

    Loads of video montages are still available on YouTube. A quick roundup:

    This clip from hadi15 went viral minutes after it was posted online. Featuring a song from the rock band Thirteen Senses, “Into the Fire,” the video retraces the last three days of street protests, highlighting the diversity among the marchers: young and old; men and women; Muslims, Christians, Atheists, all chant the same slogans; all for one cause.

  2. February 5, 2011 7:10 pm

    A photo of an Egyptian protester holding a sign saying “I love Facebook” has become viral on Twitter via the shortened address and now it’s beginning to show up on Facebook.

    The first translation of the sign from Arabic into English showed up in a tweet by NBC’s Richard Engel, and then the media company’s publicist Ashley McCollum forwarded he shortened URL to us once it started getting retweeted. The image really speaks for itself so we’ve reproduced it for you below.

  3. February 14, 2011 8:08 am

    See also the following article, courtesy of Karine Nahon (pers. comm.):

    Fifteen Minutes of Fame:
    The Place of Blogs in the Life Cycle of Viral Political Information

    Pre-Print Version. December 2010. Accepted for Publication in 2011 in Policy & Internet.

  4. May 19, 2011 10:41 am

    And see Los virales de la #spanishrevolution. Por: Delia Rodríguez

  5. May 24, 2011 7:46 am

    As well as: Bin Laden and The IT Crowd: Anatomy of a Twitter hoax

  6. June 2, 2011 9:57 pm

    And see:

    “Dempsey says military must adjust to viral reality. Arab Spring, death of Osama bin Laden brought swift changes to realm of global threats”.

  7. June 21, 2011 9:04 am

    carmelva Carmel Vaisman
    Giving 2 talks at Vienna Univ. Tue & Wed, on social action memes (free hugs, flashmobs) ; abusive discourse patterns


  1. Activism in the age of viral reality « Terry Olgin's Blog
  2. Why Twitter is not to be ridiculed « media/anthropology

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