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12 — Gone viral: Social media and acts of protest

Graphic image of phones

Above: Viral phones, illustration by Jan Gillbank

In this sequence the students critically examine the effects of digital conversations. They analyse how identities, communities and acts of protest intersect, and explain how specific values and issues are represented through active participation in digital media. They will experiment with digital conversations through the use of Web 2.0 tools.

It is recommended that a secured social media site is established for the whole group to use, with appropriate permissions, to host student activities.


Activity 1: Conversations

In this activity the students explore a range of social media sites and analyse the different ways there are to interact online such as Facebook, Twitter, a blog or a wiki. These can be used as sites for:

Preview the websites below, allocating different sites to groups of students. These sites demonstrate a range of opportunities for digital conversations:

The students list the ways citizens could participate online in these sites, sharing this information on the class site.

Show the students an extract from an episode of Q&A (recent episides are on the Q&A section of the ABC website; just click on the Programs tab on the left side of the the page and you can navigate to programs screened on various dates, then to short sections within specific programs) and observe the relationships between the Twitter feed and the panel discussion. As a whole class, analyse the tweets, focusing on:

The students independently analyse two or three Twitter comments that present diverse views on an aspect of the discussion. Discuss these analyses as a class, exploring how participation in digital media is a way of advocating a personal view in a conversation with other participants. 

Activity 2: Mobilisation – citizens as journalists

In this activity the students explore recent examples where social media has helped give a voice to protesters. Show the class the collaborative website 18 Days in Egypt. The material on the website is crowd-sourced: essentially a citizen journalist enterprise comprised of phone footage, emails, Twitter feeds and other social media. The website documents emotion and reaction rather than a journalist’s representation of truth in a particular context. 

As a class, compare citizen journalism with traditional web reporting from media organisations or political parties such as:

Assess how these sites claim to tell the truth and then compare this to how 18 Days in Egypt claims to present truth. The students might analyse and discuss:

Activity 3: Mobilisation – students as citizen journalists

Curating tools for use in an online environment are an evolving element. They are useful for developing critical thinking in classrooms as students select and shape their own views of current events and debates. There is a range of curating tools such as Tumblr, Delicious and Storify

Students are required to co-construct a protest story using Storify. Storify is a tool that can be used to curate social media. It aggregates other social media tools, aiming to ensure that the voice of the people can be amplified on a given story, as set forth in ‘Our Vision for Storify’.

Working in groups of three, the students choose an area for protest and curate a Storify page from other social network tools. An image such as Banksy’s photo of Paris Hilton ‘90% of Success is Just Showing Up’ could be one way of beginning a protest story on homelessness.