This project examines the ways in which five organisations involved new media and social networking sites (SNS) in the organisation of the real-life protest “The Wave” climate change march in London, UK, 5th December 2009. The protest took place in light of the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009 and was aimed at world leaders to find a workable solution for climate change. The research is based on interviews with media experts of the main organiser Stop Climate Chaos Coalition and the member organisations Oxfam, Action Aid, Envision and Campaign Against Climate Change. Furthermore, content analyses of the respective Twitter accounts and the Stop Climate Chaos Facebook group and The Wave event page were conducted to evaluate the involvement with social network sites by the organisations. The concepts that were evaluated in this research were threefold: interactivity, awareness and mobilization. As the results present, the degree of involvement with social media varies between the organization, as the resource-strong organisations Stop Climate Chaos, Oxfam and Action Aid show more efficiency in their application of SNS in their mobilisation strategies.
Furthermore, this research evaluates the electronic action repertoire identified by Costanza-Chock (2003) and concludes that, while social media pose a valuable contribution to this repertoire and extends it, they do not provide any revolutionising novelties to the electronic contention repertoire.
This thesis is inspired by the climate change protest of the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition (SCCC) in London in advance of the United Nations Climate Summit in December 2009. Apart from traditional channels, the organisation relied on new and social media channels, such as Facebook and Twitter, to promote the protest march and rally protesters. This raises the question of how these new media channels were used and what strategies were followed by the organisation. The research question of this project is: Using ‘The Wave’ climate change protest held in London, United Kingdom in December 2009 as a case study, how was social media used to organise the march? This is explored through interviews with media experts of the organisations involved and content analyses of Facebook and Twitter profile pages. The findings of the analyses are presented and discussed in the research paper. While the results point to a positive development of the use of social media by NGOs, it also becomes clear that the organisations are by far not exhausting all possibilities and often project the accustomed use of old media on new media.
The following pages of the introduction present the development of the research question and sub questions and the case study in more details, while also giving a brief overview of existing research on the topic. Furthermore, the structure of the thesis is highlighted.
In December 2009, the world witnessed the failure of world leaders to react collectively on climate change. 192 nations had gathered in Copenhagen for the UN Climate Summit, yet no substantial agreement was reached. Although the scientific case for sustaining a temperature rise of only 2 degrees Celsius was recognised, no commitment to cutting emissions to achieve that goal was agreed upon (Vaughn & Adam, 2009). Yet the global problem of climate change affects every citizen on this planet. Numerous non-governmental organisations (NGOs), as well as governmental organisations, are therefore fighting to keep temperature rise to a minimum, but as becomes apparent with this failure of agreement at Copenhagen, a global collective movement supported by governments and industries seems to be rooted only in hope. Before and during the conference many environmental NGOs, but also organisations with other backgrounds, rallied activists and protesters to raise awareness to the cause and show politicians that the world is watching their decisions.
One of these protests organised in advance of the Climate Summit took place in London on the 5th of December 2009 and was organised by the so called Stop Climate Chaos Coalition (SCCC). Called ‘The Wave’, the protest was aimed to urge Gordon Brown and other world leaders to commit to the cause of cutting carbon emission globally and support people in the third world who suffer the effects of global warming most (Press Release SCCC, 2009).
The organisation of ‘The Wave’ march took place through a combination of offline as well as online means. However this form of mobilisation is not entirely new and has seen its emergence in the organisation of the protest against the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in Seattle in 1999 (Bennett & Segerberg, 2009). New media offer a variety of channels for movement organisation. Furthermore, with the continuing development of the internet and the emergence of Web 2.0, further channels and applications become available that not only offer means for mobilisation, but also for immediate two-way communication between the organisers and the users. Thus especially social networking sites (SNS) allow the reaching out to large masses of people and possible protesters. In the case of ‘The Wave’, SCCC has relied on SNS such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other channels to organise and mobilise its members and promote the march to a wider audience. It is interesting to explore the use of new media in this context as it offers such a wide variety of possibilities to reach a large target audience, albeit wide reaching promotion does not necessarily translate into successful outcomes.
The study of SNS is relatively young, as the platforms themselves have only recently reached popularity. Most recent studies on new media and social movement organisations do not yet include the study of SNS or neglects them in the research (Seo, Kim & Yang, 2009). Research on SNS on the other hand primarily focuses on the user and his characteristics (Zhang, Johnson, Seltzer & Bichard, 2010; Harrison & Barthel; 2009) or the creation of social capital (Ellison, Steinfield & Lampe, 2007). An organisational perspective on SNS, which explores the ways in which organisations can include SNS in their objectives of binding users, promoting events or products and so on, has, up until to now, been largely ignored by social movement and new media theorists. In light of this research gap, the following thesis explores the ways in which social media and social movement actors interact. It looks at the ways, in which social media is used in the organising of traditional protests, the specific tactics used by the organisation and their success. A short section will also highlight the impact that the media experts attribute to the protest. The goal is to classify social media as either adding to the traditional repertoire of electronic contention (Costanza-Chock, 2003) or as presenting a new form of electronic contention tactics.
The research question on which this thesis is based is as follows:
Using ‘The Wave’ climate change protest held in London, England in December 2009 as a case study, how was social media used to organise the march? A number of questions emerge in light of this:
How is social media used to raise awareness for the protest? How do social movement organisations use the features for interactivity of social media? How successful is the use of social media in mobilising protesters? Do social media add a new repertoire of electronic contention?
This research question allows combining the processes of awareness, interaction and mobilisation under the umbrella term to organise, as these concepts are major stones in the process of protest organisation. The final results will shed light on the possibilities of social media for the online mobilisation of offline protests by social movements and the success of this strategy, especially with regard to the increasing facilities offered by social networking sites.
As the numbers of subscribers to social networking sites is increasing daily, so is the potential target audience of social movements. Yet, showing support to issues online is a matter of one click in comparison to active involvement in movements in the offline world (Cammaerts, 2007). Nevertheless, new media has potentially contributed to changes in mobilisation, which will be explored. The tactics used by the SCCC can potentially serve other social movement organisers as an inspiration.