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Social media at forefront of social protest

Thanks to Twitter and Facebook, digital agitation has entered the mainstream allowing people to affect change at a dizzying speed. Going viral is no longer reserved for cute puppy videos.

social media Updated: Feb 04, 2012 20:15 IST
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From SOPA to Ellen DeGeneres, protesting keeps getting more social.



Thanks to Twitter and Facebook, digital agitation has entered the mainstream allowing people to affect change at a dizzying speed. Going viral is no longer reserved for cute puppy videos.



Social networking has moved into new areas of social protest, Tim Stevens, editor-in-chief of the technology blog Engadget, said Friday, shortly after Susan G. Komen Foundation reversed course on pulling Planned Parenthood funding in wake of a fierce social media protest. "It's not just techies anymore," he said. "It's people who are interested in women's rights and other civil liberties."



Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation bowed to blow back on Facebook, Twitter and other digital platforms on Friday. It apologized for its original decision to withdraw support for breast cancer screening at Planned Parenthood.



That viral protest ignited this week, around the same time as a social networking uproar sprang up against a conservative group's attempt to force J.C. Penny to ditch openly-gay spokeswoman Ellen DeGeneres. The Stand Up for Ellen campaign attracted thousands of supporters, who signed an online petition sponsored by GLAAD. That outpouring of support emboldened the retailer to stand by the popular talk show host.



These successful movements come on the heels of a stunning online campaign by technology companies and average citizens against two pieces of federal legislation, the Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), that were seen as Draconian and censorious.



After millions tweeted and posted their displeasure on Facebook and sites like Wikipedia went dark, the Hollywood studios pushing the acts and their congressional counterparts were forced to go back to the drawing board.



"There's a new political and media ecology that social networking provides and it's not controlled by the mainstream media," said Andrew Rasiej, the chairman of New York Tech MeetUp, a key opponent of SOPA and PIPA. "It's controlled by citizens who are able to wield power at a speed that has the mainstream media, the politicians and the institutional players in shock."



Some of these causes would have inspired protests in the past, but the rate at which a movement materializes, intensifies and concludes has accelerated from years to months to, in the most recent instances, a matter of days.



"It's not just the agitators who are figuring out how to stage these eruptions of dissent," Clive Thompson, a columnist for Wired, told TheWrap. "The people on the other side, who are being agitated against, are now aware that they can't ignore this."



Not everyone is so convinced that Twitter and Facebook are the difference makers in these equations.



Writing in the Huffington Post on Friday, political analyst Andy Ostroy argued: "Let's not take away from the power of protest, and what we as citizens can achieve, by wasting so much time fawning over technology's role in all of it.



At the end of the day, it's the people who use Twitter and Facebook, just as they used other media throughout history to foment dissent and harness protest."



That may be the case, but before Twitter and Facebook got hold of them, SOPA and Susan G. Komen were hardly household names. In short order, they became public enemy number one for many socially networked people and the subject of articles and television segments across the media landscape.