The public response to the murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner has been compared to the 1960s civil rights movement. There are many differences between what happened 50 odd years ago and today but one of the biggest is the existence of the Internet.
The Internet is often portrayed as a mobilization tool and, as demonstrated during President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, one capable of effective grassroots organizing.
However, I would question the true impact of the Internet upon social mobilization. In my research I investigate the relationships between various traditional and new media (including newspapers, television, film and the Internet) and society. In particular, I consider how media shape and reconfigure human interaction, collective reasoning and social policy.
I would argue that at the same time as the Internet has facilitated the creation of a network society, it has also diminished the role of centralized, organized protest as an effective weapon for social change – a role the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s demonstrated to be effective.
Instead, the Internet provides channels for niche interests and marginalization – echo chambers where users are bombarded with similar and self-validating perspectives.