Leaderless rebellion : how social media enables global protests | Financial Times
The mass protests that have broken out during the past year in Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East share other important characteristics. They are usually leaderless rebellions, whose organisation and principles are not set out in a little red book or thrashed out in party meetings, but instead emerge on social media. These are revolts that are convened by smartphone and inspired by hashtags, rather than guided by party leaders and slogans drafted by central committees.
The rallying power of social media is a crucial enabler for leaderless movements. When the Hong Kong demonstrations broke out in June, Joshua Wong — the most high-profile democracy activist in the territory — was in jail. In Moscow, a month later, the Russian government moved swiftly to arrest Alexander Navalny, a leading opposition figure, but demonstrations continued without him. In Lebanon, France and Chile, authorities have searched in vain for ringleaders.
Across the world, demonstrators are using similar technologies to organise and spread their messages. Messaging services that offer end-to-end encryption — such as Telegram — are hard to spy on and are very popular. Facebook groups and Twitter allow amorphous protest movements to crowdsource ideas and articulate grievances.
Social media also allows a movement in one place to take inspiration from news of revolts in another. The occupation of the airport in Barcelona last week was a tactic borrowed from Hong Kong. Hong Kong demonstrators have been seen carrying the Catalan flag. The Sudanese and Algerian uprisings this year borrowed each other’s imagery and slogans — in a similar fashion to the Arab Spring revolts of 2011.
Après avoir dit tout le mal qu’il pensait des mouvements européens, le Financial Times semble se réjouir de l’équivalent à Hong Kong. Va comprendre ;-)
“Be formless, shapeless, like water” has been a rallying cry of almost five months of protests that have rocked Hong Kong. The slogan, originally coined by the city’s most famous son and kung-fu movie star Bruce Lee, embodies the nimble and creative strategies of protesters who have no leader and mostly mobilise through social media.
Hong Kong’s worst political crisis in decades, triggered by the controversial extradition bill, has evolved into a youth-led movement demanding universal suffrage. Many protesters experienced their political awakening during the pro-democracy demonstrations of 2014 now known as the Umbrella Movement — which ended in failure, with several of its leaders imprisoned.
The protesters learnt their lesson. Now, demonstrations are largely leaderless and decentralised with activists using social media to co-ordinate and mobilise anonymously in the shadow of China’s rapidly-expanding surveillance state. Once an idea gains traction online, smaller groups spin off to co-ordinate specific actions.
Posters are shared in Telegram chat groups to thousands of followers, who print them out and post them around the city. Crowdfunding campaigns have raised more than $15m to pay for medical bills, legal fees and advertisements in international papers. And in a city where the iPhone is ubiquitous, Apple’s Airdrop function allows information to spread rapidly at protests, where people track police movements with regularly updated live maps. GitHub pages compile video feeds from news broadcasters for supporters watching at home.
As the movement has evolved, radical protesters also use social media to gauge public opinion, adjusting and explaining the intensity of their violence to avoid alienating moderate supporters.