Protests today seem to be on the rise, as citizens around the world gather in ever increasing numbers to voice their resistance to abuses from their governments. At the same time, digital technologies have become instrumental in how these demonstrations are organized and run.
In Romania, ongoing protests now reaching their 33rd day, mark an important turn in the citizens’ fight to change a deeply rooted corrupt political governance. This upheaval was sparked by an ordinance bill that decriminalized, among others, abuse of power for state officials for prejudice below €20,000. The first demonstration came about spontaneously, as people mobilized through social media to fill up the streets and the square in front of the Government building.
Jeffrey Juris has argued, departing from his ethnographic work with the #Occupy movements, that social media have facilitated the emergence of a new form of protesting- the ‘logic of aggregation’ (Juris, 2012). The logic of aggregation is influenced by and structured around social media such as Twitter and Facebook, and involves a shift in the way people aggregate, towards more decentralising forms of organizing and networking (Juris, 2012). In this way, individuals from diverse backgrounds gather within physical spaces in the city around one common cause; their struggles are temporarily made visible through carnivalesque acts, sit-ins, etc. (Juris, 2012). These new media then act as a form of infrastructure for the aggregation of people into demonstrations, thus changing the outcome and shape that protests take.
The use of social media and smartphones were the main infrastructure for the protests in Romania, as the demonstrations started spontaneously, as the news that the ordinance was passed started circulating on these channels in the middle of the night. The mobilisation of people was leaderless, inclusive, and had a clearly delineated goal- the abrogation of the ordinance and a more transparent approach to governance from the ruling party. The role of social media in the course the protests have taken is also visible in the aesthetics of the placards, inspired by social media communication style, puppetry, theatre, a heavy reliance on plays of words and political satire. Indeed, one of the most recognizable placards from the protests was #Rezist. These techniques of dissent, linked to the same media that gave the protests their current shape, make the struggles of the protesters visible, bringing the participants’ often painful experiences with corruption to the forefront.
The participants to the protests in Romania have also been doing politics through becoming a form of infrastructure themselves. The cause gathered a record number of people in the streets, making it the biggest demonstration in the country’s history. Playing on this physicality of the mass of people, participants used their smartphones as torches on some of the nights, creating a symbolic image from which the events were named “The Revolution of Light”.
In all, new ways of being on the internet transform the ways people come together to become political actors, changing the ways politics and social relationships are done.
Juris, J. S., 2012. Reflections on #Occupy Everywhere: Social media, public space, and emerging logics of aggregation. Journal of the American Ethnological Society, 39(2), p. 259–279.