Short Talk Panel WC: From Click to Clicktivism: New Publics and the Cyberspace

Towards a Digital Public Square: The (Ab)uses of Facebook Among Nigerian Student Unionists

Presenter: Krystal Strong

Based on three years of ethnographic fieldwork on student political practices in higher educational institutions in Ibadan Nigeria, this paper explores the ways Nigerian youth practice politics, negotiate political discourse, and develop civic identities via the use of social media, especially Facebook.  While the countries of the Global South, especially those in Africa, are often regarded as being on the losing side of the so-called digital divide, the recent upsurge in the availability of mobile phones and internet access, most notably in cyber cafes, has created new opportunities for young people to connect with each other and their global peers.  Moreover, with the continuing evolution of Nigeria's young democracy, students in the country's tertiary institutions have taken a renewed interest in student unionism as one avenue for practicing politics (in preparation for broader civic participation and leadership) during the course of their educational experience.  Incidentally, social media, especially Facebook, has been a critical component of young people's repertoire of political practice.  This paper will chronicle the establishment of the University of Ibadan's Student Union (public) Facebook page in 2011 with attention to: the way Facebook, as a stand-in for digital spaces more generally, has allowed students to cultivate a "public square"; and, the nature of political dialogue on the Facebook page, particularly its evolution from "abusive" discourse to more engaged forms of testimony, critique, rhetoric, and direct political action.  The paper will offer insight into both the possibilities and challenges that social media frameworks, created in the Global North, present for Nigerian youth, desiring to use such media for purposes, at times, unintended by the creators.  At the same time, the paper will offer a more general discussion of how social media creates avenues for new modes of knowledge production and civic engagement among Global South youth typically sidelined from civic participation in their home countries.


Becoming Global Citizens through Digital Media: Pathways to Transnational and Digital Public Engagement for Young Women

Presenter: Manisha Pathak-Shelat

Globalization and digital media are the two forces that have shaped the unique identities of the generations growing up in the 1990s and after. These forces have also propelled increasing interconnectedness of the different parts of the world resulting in the revival of interest in the idea of global citizenship. A string of studies, however,  have demonstrated that the availability of communication technology is no guarantee that it will be used for civic/political purposes (Bimber, 2000; Dahlgren 2007), that most of the new media use by young people has been banal more than transformative, and that youth use new media to connect with those familiar rather than those in different socio-cultural locations (Boyd, 2008; Buckingham, 2008; Livingstone, 2009, Watkins, 2009). So, it seems that young people with well developed global civic identities who have recognized the promise of digital media and found value in engaging the global public sphere constitute a unique cohort of young people world wide. My talk draws from the experiences of young women around the world (from 15 different countries spanning all major continents) who find value and meaning in transnational and digital public engagement and see themselves as global citizens. I am specifically focusing on young women because women have conventionally faced exclusion and limitations in public participation, and globalization is a gendered process. Besides, in many societies gender is still an important axis along which digital inequalities are experienced. Despite these structural limitations a number of young women today are active in transnational online public spheres. Even when we find women who are highly engaged digitally and globally, it is important to recognize that citizenship is a culturally and historically situated process. Based on in-depth interviews with 20 women from different parts of the world  my talk traces different pathways that these women have taken to become digitally and globally active citizens. In the process I examine how lifeworlds come together with individual agency and how local interact with global in different locations to shape women’s experience of citizenship. My talk would contribute to discussion on civic and leadership education, digital citizenship, globalization and social change, and media literacy.


Digital Activism in an Analogue Context

Presenter: Ana Sofia Ruiz

How youth in rural communities in Central America use hybrid models of communication (digital and analogue) to engage in activism and reach their audience.

Central America is a region where traditional media prevails, internet penetration and access to new technologies are highly limited. The percentage of population with online connection in Honduras is only of 15.9%, in Guatemala 11.7%, in Nicaragua 10.6%, in Costa Rica 42.1% and in Panamá 42.7%. (International Telecommunication Unit Report, 2012) In a region with growing levels of insecurity, violence, corruption and drug cartels, social problems are deepening and inequality is growing.

Central American youth is no different from other contexts: they commit to social struggles, and engage in social participation, but spaces at hand are very narrow. Even more for young people in rural and indigenous communities. However, despite the difficulties they find ways to be heard and carry their voices as far as they can.

Hivos´ office for Central America conducted two youth camps: in Guatemala and Nicaragua, to learn how youngsters connect to each other and to a broader audience in their engagement as activists.

From this experience we have learned that many of them don´t think of themselves as activists, but do so in many ways: as artists, as young leaders in their communities, as teachers.

Their road into being an engaged youth demands using new technologies, to keep up with their peers in a wold context. But this comes with a disadvantage: most of the Central American audience still uses analog media (traditional press and radio). If young activist want to inform their fellow citizens about the issues going on in their community, they need to use the radio, for instance. On the other hand, if they want to get a world audience involved, they might use Twitter.

Getting access from reliable resources is also scarce, since the media is monopolized by the government or corporations related to drug cartels. This calls for greater actions that can only come from independent media, engaged citizens and youth, but comes with a high risk. In Honduras, there has been at least 28 journalists murdered from 2003 to date, which remain unpunished. In Guatemala, in the indigenous community of Totonicapán, 7 people were murdered by the Guatemalan army, in a social protest against the rising of the electric bills. This event  would have gone unnoticed  and unpunished, if  some of the participants had not had camera on their cell phone or  Twitter accounts, which provided evidence that the President wasn´t able to ignore.

As Hivos´ representative for the Central American office and organizer of these two youth camps, I would like to have a chance to share what youngsters in Central America are doing and the challenges they face.

The Cyber-Public and Digital Squares

Presenter: Noopur Raval

This paper seeks to look at the transformed character of resistances in the digital age through the privileging of the byte and the pixel.  In the course of the paper, the author wishes to explore how the acts of seeing and being seen are central to the unfolding of digital spectacles - flattened resistances produced for global consumption of change. Also, along with this, the author intends to look at information networks and the rhetoric of self empowerment that seem to be at the core of all citizen action in the cyberspaces. In the course of this paper, the author will pick up instances of famous digitally aided revolutions/resistances - spectacles and locate absences and disappearances visually as well as in how the narratives were constructed within the information network with the help of tools available to the citizen activist that may help us reevaluate the success of digitally aided/infused acts of citizen activism.


No Need to Take Action, Just Wait and See: Community Activism and Mexican immigrant Digital Natives

Presenter: Joy Pierce

Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach…. [Digital Natives] have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, videogames, digital music players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age. (2001, p.1)

Digital change often happens quickly – whether we participate in it or not. Social change may take years, despite citizen action. Organizing through the Internet is seen as a mode of self-improvement through possibilities for education opportunities and housing, as well as information on social welfare and political freedom through online information gathering and voting. Yet the promise for social change at the site of the digital is still a shaky proposition for some Digital Natives.

Using examples from case studies, I will address how Prensky’s assertions prove there is much work yet to do concerning organizing community using digital media. What happens when the mainstream population in a community with a large Mexican immigrant population makes assumptions without regard to the specific cultural, linguistic and social needs of that underrepresented population? Teaching and learning technologies using a community-based center with a socially-motivated topic is one way to engage an underrepresented population that is ignored or silenced. This discussion will focus on ways to motivate youth to become informed digital citizens and future activists.

Krystal Strong
Manisha Pathak-Shelat
Ana Sofia Ruiz
Noopur Raval
Joy Pierce
Discussant: Maha Abdul Rahman