Trial and Error
// Posted by Emily on 11/03/2014 (12:35 PM)
While thinking of ways to reflect on our most recent experience, I kept returning to the relationship between online and “IRL” protests, and the question of which was more effective than the other. Mid-thought, I realized that I didn’t necessarily have to answer this question on my own. I googled “online protest forums,” with the intent to post my questions to the protest experts, and the search lead me to whyweprotest.net, an Anonymous (big A!) forum.
In the spirit of transparency, I must admit that out of fear of entering into the Anonymous world, I hit the “back” button and spent a solid fifteen minutes looking for other forums to post on. Right or wrong, I had visions of hackers seeing my post and deciding to drop documents on me for just fun. Though it was a far-fetched fear, Grigoriadis’ “4chan’s Chaos Theory” and “We Are Legion” made the fear just realistic enough to make me pause. After a self-induced reality check (really, who was going to care enough to drop documents on me?) I bit the bullet, signed up, and posted.
This social media experiment was a total bust. My post was viewed by thirty others on the forum. One lone member, “Anonymous Button,” offered an offensive and thoughtless response (see below). After “We Are Legion” portrayed the members of Anonymous as the rough edges of the activist world who never shied away from expressing an opinion, I was a little disappointed in the lack of turnout. Perhaps I didn’t pose my question appropriately; controversial phrasing might have inspired more users to bite. Can’t win them all, I guess.
“Anonymous Button” wasn’t the least bit helpful, so I thought back to our experience to analyze the relationship and effectiveness of online and “IRL” protests. We spent the first part of the experience posting the #cleanURlake cause to social media spheres on Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Yik Yak, and the second part protesting the bacterial contamination in Westhampton Lake in person outside the library. Going into the experience, I was unsure about how the protest would be received on the Internet, thinking that the social media posts would fly under the campus radar, and that a group of students with signs acting completely out of character would be more effective in generating attention.
As of Sunday, our Instagram had 18 followers, the Facebook had 7 friends (all from Digital America,) and the Yik Yak had been “up voted” (the equivalent of a “like” on Facebook) 103 times. Our “IRL” protest inspired a second, much more bitter Yik Yak, which was quickly removed (I suspect due to “down votes” from other members of our class). Though it wasn’t up for long, I think this Yak evidences the twenty-first century inseparable relationship between the Internet and the real world. A Richmond student saw our protest in person, and responded to it in a social media outlet online.
It’s impossible to determine whether our “IRL” protest generated the Yik Yak likes, or if they happened without any knowledge that the protest ever happened. It would be easy to say that the online protest was more effective, because it can be quantified by the number of followers and likes. But I don’t think it’s that simple. In retrospect, maybe no other users on whyweprotest.net responded to my post because there just isn’t an answer to the questions I asked. We are in an age where online protests and “IRL” protests go hand in hand, and valuing one over the other based solely on effectiveness holds the potential of threatening their dual significance.