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Social Media and the Greek Riots
Dissertation – MSc Science and Technology Studies
Exam no. 9781703
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In December 2008 a young student was shot and killed by a police officer in central Athens, Greece. The incident resulted in major riots and demonstrations throughout the country which lasted for several weeks. Greek users of social media responded immediately to the growing sentiment of outrage and there was increased activity over various channels, especially twitter, a microblogging service, which proved to be a valuable tool for communication and news reporting. Twitter acted as an aggregator for other online media, creating a real-time feed of news and links pertaining to the riots. Along with blogs, photograph and video hosting sites, social networking sites and others, a direct and straightforward account of the riots was generated, just as they were taking place. International media and later on Greek media picked up on the activity and used it for reporting. The way social media were used and their relationship to traditional media is examined through the studying of various media and interviews with users of the service.
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Table of Contents
1. Introduction.......................................................................4 1.1. Chapter Outline...........................................................6 2. Literature Review..............................................................9 2.1. Social Construction of Technology............................9 2.2. Network Society........................................................11 2.3. Web 2.0 and Social Networking Sites (SNSs)..........14 2.4. Twitter........................................................................16 2.5. Internet mobilization, media crisis and new media...18 3. Methodology.....................................................................21 3.1. Text and media research............................................21 3.2. Interviews..................................................................22 3.3. Assessment of methods.............................................24 4. Findings and Discussion...................................................26 4.1. Context of the December 2008 riots..........................26 4.2. Social media and the Greek riots...............................28 4.3. Interview findings......................................................34 5. Conclusions.......................................................................38 6. Bibliography......................................................................43
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Computer-mediated communication has radically changed the landscape of human communication during recent decades. A new, direct, horizontal mode of communication has connected millions of users through their personal computers. The Internet has penetrated many aspects of life for millions of people worldwide and has changed the way they work, their leisure, and communication with others. There has been increased scholarly work studying diverse aspects and impacts of the Internet on users, on society, the way it is designed and appropriated. There has also been a rise in recent years of what is now known as web 2.0, online applications and websites that allow users to generate their own content, to create networks, to interact with each other in a social manner on the web. Such websites continuously grow and acquire more members, users and developers of applications, who find new and diverse ways of expression and interaction. At the same time, a crisis in traditional media has appeared, especially in print media. With the proliferation of huge corporations controlling a vast amount of global media and the rise of the Internet and user-generated content, traditional media have observed their sales dropping. The Internet provides a new, speedy, direct, and social way of sharing news and other information; there have been many cases where breaking news have appeared and have been circulated online before any newspaper having the chance of printing them. That is why news corporations try to adapt to this new trend by keeping large and up-to-date websites, engaging users, having a presence in the new area of social media on the web. Citizens can now become reporters themselves, with their mobile phones and cameras, and using websites and blogs to publish content. On many occasions the first images from breaking news incidents come from people present at the site, not reporters. For example, the first report concerning the Hudson River plane crash in January 2009 was delivered on twitter. “Twitter users broke the news of the incident around 15 minutes before the mainstream media alerted viewers and readers to the crash” wrote Claudine Beaumont in an article about the event for the Telegraph (Beaumont, 2009). In this thesis I will attempt to combine these two themes described above, by examining the role that social media played during the Greek riots in December 2008.
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In early December 2008, in central Athens a young student was shot and killed by a police officer. This incident sparked widespread protests and riots all over the country, which lasted for several weeks. It was described by many as a social revolt with deep-rooted causes that found an outlet with the killing of the 15 year old student. This movement had a very strong voice online, with social media immediately responding to the incident and users taking advantage of the services to report on events, communicate, exchange information and mobilize. Twitter, a microblogging service that allows users to post short messages and disseminate them to their network, was central to this phenomenon. It was actually the first medium that transmitted the incident of the shooting, minutes after it happened. That kind of speed could not be achieved by any traditional medium. People on the streets sent tweet messages from their mobile phones, people at home wrote messages, wrote on their blogs, created videos, uploaded photographs. Such activity was never seen before in the relatively small Greek online community. What attracted me to this topic was that as the events unfurled I was not in Greece, but in Edinburgh. I followed the events almost exclusively through social media and over the Internet, as I didn‟t have access to media in my country. That was when I started using twitter more actively, and followed the stream of news very closely to see what was going on in my city and by extension, in my whole country; as demonstrations and riots shook not only Athens and Salonica, the two major urban centres, but many other small towns in Greece. The Internet, with rss feeds from newspapers, twitter, blogs and other media, proved to be a significantly efficient means of obtaining news for me at a difficult time that I was away from the country. After having followed the events closely while they unfolded and in the aftermath of the months after the riots, I began thinking of this as a potential topic for my dissertation. Twitter had already gained popularity and featured often in the news, especially after the riots and other events that were covered and transmitted by its users. Thus, I began thinking of examining the role of social media in the Greek riots in combination with the state of traditional media and the crisis they find themselves into in the dawn of the 21st century. Especially the Greek traditional media, which have repeatedly been accused of being biased, old-fashioned and with no interest in the growing new forms of communication and have largely lost respect from many members of their audience.
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From the above and the initial research I did when considering the topic more closely, I formed two main research questions that I will attempt to frame and answer in the course of this dissertation. These are: Firstly, I would like to examine the way social media were used in the wake of the riots, how they were taken advantage of by users in exchanging information and communicating. Secondly, through the studying of media responses to the events of the riots, I would like to investigate the relationship of traditional media and social media, their advantages and disadvantages and see whether social media may over time come to replace traditional media with their speed and directness. Several other secondary questions sprang through the research as well, mainly concerning the usage of social media. Some of these are: i. whether twitter can be described as an online community ii. whether users have uniform ways of using the service or not iii. whether the phenomenon of increased usage and communication through social media in the event of the particular crisis of the riots was a unique phenomenon These main and secondary questions will be examined and addressed in the following chapters. The dissertation comprises of four more chapters, outlining my research, findings and conclusions. A brief outline of these chapters is provided below.
Literature review For the initial part of my research, the literature review, I used a few strands of research ranging from STS scholarship to the Internet and of course the twitter service. I used principally the theoretical framework of the Social Construction of Technology (SCOT), namely how technologies are socially shaped by the needs of their users. This approach is relevant in web 2.0 services where content is created by the users and they define the way services and websites evolve in a significant degree. The second strand of scholarship I explore is the notion of the Network Society that has come forward with the increasing use of personal computers in the workplace and personal life. The change in digital communication and the creation of networks
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between people using the Internet is important for expanding communication and overcoming various geographical, temporal and social boundaries. Furthermore, as a result of this proliferation of digital communication, I examine the advent of web 2.0, which is characterized by user-generated content, enabling users to create and publish content online, to comment on each other‟s creations, to create networks and communities. I say a few things about the microblogging service twitter, which is the central theme of my research Lastly, I briefly examine the Internet as a tool for political engagement and mobilization and the ongoing crisis of traditional media against new media.
Methodology In this chapter I outline the research methods I used to gather information and data to support my assumptions. It is divided in two parts. Firstly, the texts and other media I studied; namely, press articles from local and international media, the tweet messages from the period of the riots, various videos and photographs, blog posts and other media found on the web. The research of the tweet messages was hindered since twitter does not keep records of older messages, making it difficult to search for past tweets, but the website hashtags.org had kept most of the messages published using the relevant tag, so I was able to go through them. The second part of my research consisted of eight interviews with users of twitter and other social media, conducted live and via email. Those were useful for acquiring insider information and insights on the phenomenon of the riots and the way they were covered on the Internet. I provide the questions I used and comment on the effectiveness of the interviews or lack thereof.
Findings and discussion This is the major chapter of the dissertation, in which I outline the findings from my research and comment on various issues in an attempt to evaluate and answer my research questions. In the beginning I offer a brief background of the situation in Greece in light of the riots, and continue by analyzing what I found from the study of the various texts. Various sources are used as reference to highlight the role of social media during the riots and the reaction of traditional media to the events. I comment on the quick uptake of international media on what was taking place online and the delayed reaction of Greek media to the multiple voices finding ways of
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expression on the Internet. I proceed by commenting on the interview findings, grouped by question and providing the various views and responses of the interviewees.
Conclusions Finally, the last chapter deals with the conclusions derived from the previous chapters and attempts to provide answers to the research questions. Lastly, twitter‟s popularity is seen in juxtaposition with other major events such as the Iran Election uprising and the conclusions that can be drawn from its use.
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2. Literature review
During the last decades of the 20th century and largely since the beginning of the 21st, the Internet has become one of the major communication channels globally. Due to its nature, it provides horizontal communication between users, without intermediaries. The Internet holds a vast amount of information and can easily overwhelm the millions of users that surf through it every day. Still, it provides effective means for communication, work and leisure and has become dominant in the daily lives of a large part of the world‟s population, especially in developed countries. There has been a great amount of scholarship examining various aspects of the Internet as a technology and the way in which it has changed communication and dissemination of information, among other things. For the purposes of my research I will rest upon several key concepts pertaining to information communication technologies (ICTs), the Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) strand of STS research and some concepts pertaining to politics and media studies, to address the relationship between traditional media and social media, which are largely operating through the Internet.
Social Construction of Technology
In order to situate my research within the broad STS discipline, I have chosen the Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) approach, as it is outlined by Trevor Pinch and Wiebe Bijker in their important paper “The Social Construction of Facts and Artefacts: or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology might Benefit Each Other” (1984). Pinch and Bijker present a theory of social construction of science and technology, meaning that the use of a technology is defined by the users of that technology and not vice-versa. They use the successful example of the bicycle to illustrate their approach. Pinch and Bijker dismiss traditional, linear models of technological development, stressing that constructivism adopts a „multi-directional‟ model, using an “alteration of variation and selection” (Pinch & Bijker, 1984: 411).
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Thus, when examining the developmental process of an artifact or a technology, the SCOT approach looks at the social groups interacting with the artifact and any problems they might have with it. Based on these problems and meanings given to the technology by its users, the artifact will evolve to meet their needs. A central concept of the theory is that of “interpretative flexibility” which illustrates the relativism and diversity of meanings and interpretations held by various social groups concerning different technological artifacts. As Pinch and Bijker write: The sociocultural and political situation of a social group shapes its norms and values, which in turn influence the meaning given to an artifact. […] SCOT‟s descriptive model seems to offer an operationalization of the relationship between the wider milieu and the actual content of technology (Pinch & Bijker, 1984: 428-429). Stewart Russell has criticized Pinch and Bijker for their approach to SCOT, identifying various flaws in their argument, especially concerning the usage of relativism and the merging together of the sociology of science with the sociology of technology (Russell, 1986). Pich and Bijker responded to Russell defending their theory, since when they originally posed it the area of the sociology of technology was still at its very beginning (Pinch & Bijker, 1986). SCOT can be a useful approach when discussing the Internet, as so much of its use is defined by users. Especially with web 2.0 and the social uses of the Internet, many websites developed quite differently than what their founders had in mind, due to different perceptions of the users. Manuel Castells has written: “The Internet has been appropriated by social practice, in all its diversity” (Castells, 2001: 118). In his book “The Network Society”, Darin Barney also comments on social constructivism. He writes: In the constructivist view, the social character of a technology such as the Internet will not be universal and homogeneous, comprehensively determined by the logic of its essence as a technology. Rather, the character of the Internet is potentially plural and heterogeneous, and will depend upon the social relations and conditions that arise to support particular elaborations of the technology, and deny other possibilities, in any given context (Barney, 2004: 41) Although SCOT and constructivism in general have received several points of criticism over the years, the discourse appears to express quite aptly some central concepts useful for my research.
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One of the key concepts signifying the change brought about by Internet communication is the Network Society. This concept has been analyzed extensively and thoroughly by Darin Barney in his book of the same title (2004) and by Manuel Castells, leading thinker in the area of Internet and Information Communication Technologies. Barney identifies „the network society‟ as the leading trend in our times, along with some concepts and discources such as post-industrialism, information society, post-fordism, postmodernism and globalization that set the scene towards the dawn of the 21st century for „the network society‟ to develop. The widespread use of the internet has made this possible, since it facilitates direct communication between individuals through their personal computers. As Barney aptly states, “the possibility is that networks are the womb from which a qualitatively new form of society is being born, a society in which identity, politics and economy are structured, and operate, as networks” (Barney, 2004: 2). In what way can societies achieve being connected through networks? In the post-modern, post-industrial, information-based way most developed countries operate, the Internet has found its niche and has infiltrated many aspects of daily life for millions of users. The network is primarily composed of three components, „nodes‟, „ties‟ and „flows‟. Nodes are points which are connected to one another using ties, whereas flows are what pass through the ties in between nodes (Barney, 2004: 26). With the aid of the Internet, these connections can overcome geographical, temporal, and other boundaries, and enhance the proximity between the „nodes‟, whether these are individuals, firms, or other institutions. These three characteristics – nodes, ties and flows – create diverse relationships in the network. They can take on various aspects and thus “condition the character of any given network” (Barney, 2004: 26). Barney offers an impressive array of such different aspects the three elements can assume and concludes that the networks themselves become influenced and assume new characteristics: networks can be centralized, decentralized, or distributed; hierarchical or horizontal; bounded or boundless; finite, or proliferating; accessible or
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inaccessible; inclusive or exclusive; intensive or expansive; interactive or non-interactive (Barney, 2004: 26-27) All the above elements make the concept of the network society important for the purpose of my research, which is the reason I rest on them thoroughly. The examples of the development of web 2.0 and the various social networking sites (SNSs) that increasingly dominate online communication now that the first decade of the 21st century is nearly over, show the operation of networked communication. Internet users remain connected, overcoming boundaries of space and time, interacting through the enhanced connectivity provided to them by their personal computers and Internet connections. Especially for twitter, which will be my focus for the examination of the Greek riots, networking is extremely important. The way the website is set up, enables the users to create networks by simply choosing whose updates they wish to follow. In this way members are interconnected with each other and share information within their network and at large, since the service‟s character is public. Over the years there has been extensive scholarship about the use of networks in communication and interaction between Internet users. Issues of interactivity, community and communication arise in various authors, and such issues are central to my discussion on the social media. Before I discuss web 2.0 and social media, I would like to rest briefly on issues of community and personalized networking that the Internet offers. According to Manuel Castells, “the Internet seems to have a positive effect on social interaction, and it tends to increase exposure to other sources of information” (Castells, 2001: 121). Barry Wellman has written about community forming and networking online. In his article “Physical Place and CyberPlace: The Rise of Personalized Networking” (2001) he outlines the development of online networking and community, commenting on the social character of these aspects of the Internet. Wellman mentions the personalization and centralization offered by the web, claiming that these two elements “need not mean individual isolation. Collaborative filtering is developing. […] People can use their filters and personal agents to find like-minded others and form communities of shared interest” (Wellman, 2001: 5). The rise of different websites catering to all sorts of interests proves this position. On these websites groups of people can be found who share similar interests, goals, characteristics, and who form online communities to share support, information and
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solidarity. The use of the internet transcends typical boundaries of geographical location, age group, socio-economic status, gender, and other factors. People coming from all kinds of backgrounds, who share a similar interest, can connect using the web. Critics of the Internet have claimed that the web actually inhibits communication and threatens traditional communities, by isolating individuals in their homes, in front of their screens. Castells writes how a “major misunderstanding” was induced: the term “community”, […] confused different forms of social relationship, and prompted ideological discussion between those nostalgic for the old, spatially bounded community and the enthusiastic supporters of Internet-enabled communities of choice” (Castells, 2001: 125) On the other hand, defenders of the Internet have shown that the concept of community is quite different than what it used to be. Communities are no longer defined by geographical proximity, but by other attributes shared by their members. Social relationships are often dispersed away from the neighbourhood and often people interact more with persons away from their location, rather than the ones they are geographically closer to. The Internet and other channels of communication enable the maintenance of long-distance relationships with family members, friends, co-workers, etc. Wellman and Gulia‟s article “Net Surfers Don‟t Ride Alone: Virtual Communities as Communities” (1999) is a comprehensive analysis of how communities are formed and maintained online. Through a number of questions, which they attempt to answer, they outline the way individuals interact, seek likeminded others, offer support to near-strangers and conduct affairs on the Internet. Through the use of weak ties, people connect and interact online: “On-line and offline, weak ties are more apt than strong ties to link people with different social characteristics. Such weak ties are also better than strong ties for maintaining contact with other social circles” (Wellman & Gulia, 1999: 8). It is thus apparent that the trend of online communities exists and offers users important benefits. I have tried to establish whether twitter – which will be the social networking tool of choice for my analysis – is considered to be a community. This was one of the questions I posed to the twitter users I interviewed and it will be analyzed further on.
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Web 2.0 and Social Networking Sites (SNSs)
One of the most important developments of the Internet has been the onset of a second generation in web development, called web 2.0. This new configuration that flourished in the beginning of the 21st century and keeps growing and evolving continuously enhances communication and interaction between Internet users, through various social media, blogs, wikis, social networking sites and other services. The Internet acquires a new meaning for its users, since they can now create content themselves, without necessarily being IT specialists. They can also interact with other users and share information, comment on each other‟s content and interact in various other ways. Dominique Cardon and Christophe Aguiton, in their article “The Strength of Weak Cooperation: an Attempt to Understand the Meaning of Web 2.0” offer an interesting analysis of web 2.0 and its various aspects. According to the authors, web 2.0 interaction is based on the creation and maintenance of weak ties between users, a notion that has been also outlined by the authors commenting on online communities. Specifically: The success of web 2.0 services shows that its users mobilize much weaker cooperation between individuals. [...] The strength of the weak cooperation comes from the fact that it is not necessary for individuals to have an ex ante cooperative action plan of altruist preoccupation. They discover cooperative opportunities only by making their individual production public, i.e. texts, photos, videos, etc (Cardon & Aguiton, 2007: 52) Many web 2.0 services are specific according to content, and this facilitates the bringing together of various groups that share similar interests. For example, flickr.com enables users to post their photographs, interact with each other, form groups, search for images, and perform other activities related to photography. Similarly, youtube.com is a service for video content, where users can post their own generated content, search for videos, post comments on them, etc. Blogs attract readers according to their content and thematic identity, not necessarily because the readers know the author personally. The authors describe this as the development of “relational” communities and networks (Cardon & Aguiton, 2007: 54). These services have grown significantly over this nearly ending decade and become more specific and targeted as they evolve. More websites and services are created continuously,
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attempting to attract users. Some of them have become extremely successful and made their founders a lot of money, such as facebook for example. As Cardon and Aguiton write, “Web 2.0 services can be characterized by the astonishing rise of public interpersonal relations in mediated communities, the extension of the number of contacts and the growth of a new form of weak friendship” (Cardon & Aguiton, 2007: 55). Blogs have been an increasing way of expression and creation of content online globally. They have grown immensely over the years and allow a big portion of the population to express their views on issues with minimal effort and to reach a significant audience. There are blogs dealing with various themes and topics, and others that are simply their owners‟ online “diaries”. Successful blogs can reach a wide online audience and may achieve important readership, though not as much as traditional media. Nevertheless, the blog format facilitates discussion over texts, is a form of communication open to debate, connected to other blogs and texts, interconnecting information through hyperlinks and other data. Some of the most successful web 2.0 services, that attract millions of users globally, are social networking sites (SNSs). These websites allow users to connect with weak and strong ties, form networks, interact and communicate with friends, play games, post content such as photos and videos and comment on it, arrange meetings or parties, and many other activities. These websites, such as facebook or myspace, allow the users to define and shape their use according to their own needs and form their unique usage patterns. The focus of my research, twitter, is a social networking site, which has grown significantly this past year. Before I outline twitter, I would like to rest a little on social networking sites in general, using danah boyd and Nicole B. Ellison‟s article about “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship” (2007). The authors offer a comprehensive analysis of the growth and development of social network sites, their history, mode of conduct and functioning. Early on, they describe social network sites as: Web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system. The nature and nomenclature of these connections may vary from site to site (boyd & Ellison, 2007: 2)
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The above statement sums-up nicely how social network sites operate. Most websites function in this broad way, with differences in content, features and applications and other services provided to users. They enable users to interact with each other very effectively and they provide an interesting basis for studying computer-mediated communication, online communities and other channels of user interaction through the use of the Internet. The global popularity of these websites has given a trigger for increased scholarship on various issues, some of which boyd and Ellison cover in their article. The creation of networks is also a highly important aspect of these websites.. According to some of the research boyd and Ellison cover, “most SNSs primarily support pre-existing social relations” (boyd & Ellison, 2007: 10). boyd has stated that “SNSs are “networked publics” that support sociability, just as unmediated public spaces do” (boyd & Ellison, 2007: 11). These and other issues are prevalent in research on social network sites. In the next section I will give a brief description of twitter, which will be the central point of analysis in my research concerning social media and their use during the Greek riots in December 2008. Many websites were used, with users posting content and furiously updating blog posts, videos and photos. The use of these sites, along with twitter, was essential to the discussion concerning the events.
Twitter (http://www.twitter.com) is a microblogging service, launched in 2006. According to Java et al, in their article “Why We Twitter: Understanding Microblogging Usage and Communities” (2007) “[microblogging] tools provide a light-weight, easy form of communication that enables users to broadcast and share information about their activities, opinions and status” (Java et al, 2007). Messages are limited to 140 characters, making this a novel way of posting text. This poses an interesting challenge for users, as their messages need to be clear and concise, within the character limit. As a tool, it resembles the status messages on other social network sites, such as facebook. Java et al identify the major differences between regular blogging and microblogging as follows: Compared to regular blogging, microblogging fulfills a need for an even faster mode of communication. By encouraging shorter posts, it lowers
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users‟ requirement of time and thought investment for content generation. This is also one of its main differentiating factors from blogging in general. The second important difference is the frequency of update. On average, a prolific blogger may update her blog once every few days; on the other hand a microblogger may post several updates in a single day (Java et al, 2007) Also, microbloggers, through the twitter platform can also post questions to be answered by other users, comment directly to other users and express views much more quickly than they would on a regular blog. Twitter users form networks by “following” other users and watching their updates. If the other user follows them back, they are considered “friends”. The friend/follower relationship is the main interaction on the website. A user forms a list of friends and followers, to whom s/he publishes his/her updates and in turn s/he keeps track of the updates followed by the users s/he follows. In this way a timeline of messages, or “tweets” is created, which the user reads, responds to and interacts with. Krishnamurthy et al have identified some basic groups of twitter users, “broad attributes” as they term them (Krishnamurthy et al, 2008: 20). Firstly, there are the “broadcasters”, who have a much larger number of followers than they have friends. These are the twitter accounts of several mainstream media, who utilize the new medium to inform users, celebrities or other public figures. The second group, the authors describe as “acquaintances”, are more regular users and have a balance in the number of friends and followers. They “tend to exhibit reciprocity in their relationships, typical in online social networks”. The third and last group comprises of these users who follow a disproportionately large amount of people compared to the number of their „friends.‟ According to the authors, “such behavior is typical of miscreants (e.g., spammers or stalkers) or evangelists, who contact everyone they can, and hope that some will follow them” (Krishnamurthy et al, 2008: 20). During 2008 and largely 2009, twitter has gained immense popularity among Internet users. It has featured prominently in the media and a new use was discovered for it that made it ever more acute in expressing public reactions to events. Twitter has shown that it is extremely quick in broadcasting information, bringing together users who reproduce facts and reach other users through their networks. This is enabled by the ability to post to twitter using mobile devices and other applications, without having to access the website directly. There have been several examples over the past months about events that were extensively “tweeted”, reaching wide audiences in an
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effective and direct manner. For example, during the recent upheaval concerning the elections in Iran, social media and twitter were in many cases the only means of expression and communication for the protesters and their supporters. Twitter proved to be an effective way of publishing and sharing information during the Greek riots as well. In the analysis section of the dissertation I will attempt to offer a description of how twitter and social media in general were used and their benefits to the protesters and the wider public. I will also attempt to outline the relationship between social media and traditional media. In the next and last section of the literature review, I will outline a few theories and positions concerning mobilization and protest utilizing the Internet, as well as new media and traditional media in the era of web 2.0.
Internet mobilization, media crisis and new media
One area where the Internet and social media have proved to be effective is political activity and mobilization of groups towards various causes. As Henry Farrell and Daniel W. Drezner write, “blogs play an increasingly important role as a forum of public debate, with knock-on consequences for the media, politics, and policy” (Farrell & Drezner, 2008: 16). Their article “The Power and Politics of Blogs” deals with blogs and their influence in US politics. Furthermore, recent research by
Kavanaugh et al has shown that blogs are becoming increasingly important as news sources for users of the Internet and enable them in civic engagement, even if they are not very politically active (Kavanaugh et al, 2008). The Internet as a medium has facilitated new ways of protest and activism, enabling organizations to mobilize and experience decentralized organization. The book “Cyberprotest: New Media, Citizens and Social Movements” offers a comprehensive array of essays on examples of this. As stated in the introduction by van de Donk et al, “the Internet is not used as a mere supplement to traditional media, it also offers new, innovative opportunities for mobilizing and organizing individuals” (van de Donk et al, 2004: 6). More recent research comments on the use of the Internet in networking within alternative political movements. Tobias Olsson, in his article “The Practices of Internet Networking – A Resource for Alternative Political Movements” (2008) studied activists form political organizations and their use of the
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Internet in networking and organization. Among other conclusions, he found that his subjects agreed on the Internet‟s value to them as a resource for their construction of alternative political identity. [it] provides them with alternative information, opportunities for internal coordination, contacts with likeminded people, access to public spheres beyond their respective organizations, as well as a resource for everyday activism (Olsson, 2008: 672) To move on with the case of the media in the contemporary global landscape, it has been apparent that the media have been largely affected by globalization. As communications became more global and reached increasingly more people through various outlets, print, broadcasting and online, the way people receive news has changed. Large corporations own a vast amount of such communications outlets and in a way control what is being broadcasted and what is not. In the same way, news travel fast and are not limited to time and space, as most people are able to have access to large amounts of information and news stories from all over the globe. This trend is described in the first chapter of the book “Spaces of Identity: Global Media, Electronic Landscapes and Cultural Boundaries” (1995) by David Morley and Kevin Robins. They describe this trend as “an expansionist tendency at work, pushing ceaselessly towards the construction of enlarged audiovisual spaces and markets” (Morley & Robins, 1995: 11). The authors term this the “new media order”, “the construction of the media order through the entrepreneurial devices of a comparatively small number of global players” (Morley & Robins, 1995: 13). Manuel Castells also comments on this, by writing that there is a “profound restructuring [which] is associated with mergers and consolidation between major companies, so that seven multimedia mega-groups control most of the global media, and in each country a few corporations […] determine what is published and broadcast” (Castells, 2001: 191). One could argue that this trend has been tiring certain groups of the audience of these news corporations. When so much information exists from so many channels, it is understandable that users may become alienated from traditional media and seek more personalized options. The Internet may be able to provide that more controlled, personalized information sharing. In Cass Sunstein‟s book “Republic.com” (2001) this trend is described:
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[…] a long-standing fact of life in democratic countries: a diversity of communications options and a range of possible choices. But the emerging situation does contain large differences, stemming above all from a dramatic increase in available options, a simultaneous increase in individual control over content, and a corresponding decrease in the power of general interest intermediaries. These include newspapers, magazines, and broadcasters (Sunstein, 2001: 11) It is apparent, thus, that the vast power shared by mainstream media over the course of the 20th century, is diminishing. As Sunstein comments, “at the very least, the sheer volume of options, and the power to customize, are sharply diminishing the social role of the general interest intermediary” (Sunstein, 2001: 13). Newspapers most importantly are facing an ongoing crisis, since with the onset of television and more recently, the Internet, the speed at which they offer news is considered quite slow. In this way, most newspapers have turned to the Internet and are now available online for their readers. Traditional media in Greece, which remains the central part of my analysis, have several flaws added to the global crisis tendency. As some of the interviewees have mentioned, Greek traditional media are often biased, insensitive and serving political agendas. This will be analyzed more in the following, findings and discussion chapters. The online community of bloggers and, more recently, twitterers -if it can be described as a community- channels ongoing criticism about various events and circumstances in Greek society. This frustration erupted with the incident of the shooting of the 15 year-old student in Athens in December 2008 and social media picked it up immediately; for weeks there was a tumult of activity online concerning the riots and other events. This activity, along with the way the media were used and their relationship to mainstream media will be examined in subsequent chapters.
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The topic of the dissertation deals mainly with the Internet, so my research was focused on this medium and its diverse pathways of content. There is a fairly large amount of resources available concerning the Greek riots, so it was necessary to choose and filter through a selection of texts and other media. The research is divided in two strands: one concerns the studying of various texts and other media pertaining to the riots; while the second concerns the conducting of interviews with bloggers and twitterers who participated in the events.
Text and media research
For the first part of the research I looked through and read many media articles, both from Greek and international media, blog posts, tweet messages, videos and photographs uploaded to various websites and other resources. The nature of these media helped with the research, since they were still online and available, organized and tagged accordingly. The work undertaken during the riots and in their aftermath was important since many bloggers, twitterers, and users of other social media gathered their data, wrote analyses, organized content using the specific tag (#griots), making it easier for anyone wishing to search and go through the content. Twitter messages were difficult to get hold of though, since twitter as a service is rather ephemeral, not keeping records of old tweets and making it difficult for retrieving messages after some time. The hashtag was especially useful for this hindrance. Hashtags are keywords preceded by a hash symbol, that help group messages that have the same theme together, so that they can easily be searched for through the twitter search engine. In the case of the Greek riots the hashtag that was agreed to be used was #griots. Users added this tag to their messages and these instantly appeared on the search engine stream, creating a real-time feed of messages containing news, links to other media, reports and other information. In the website http://hashtags.org/tag/griots a record is kept from these initial messages that enabled me to go back and read some of them to recreate the atmosphere of the time and see
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what kind of messages were being published. Of course it was still quite limited since not all messages are retained, and there were also several at the time of the riots without the tag. Users retweeted messages adding the tag in order for them to appear in the live feed, but from the large amount of messages produced during the riots, not all have been restored in the website. The tag has been kept alive though, and every once in a while it will be used again when something relevant appears. Messages are infrequently added to the stream about once or twice a month, resulting in messages continuing to be shown on the hashtags.org website and the twitter search engine months after the initial riots messages. This may show that the phenomenon of reporting and discussing crises on twitter and other social media did not simply last while the riots themselves lasted, but created a basis for reacting to and perceiving events for the users of social media. The riots were still reflected upon and discussed many months after they ended. A valuable aid in the online research was provided interestingly by the users themselves, who have kept the various data well-organized and easy to reach. A social medium that helped very much in my searching and reading texts and researching other media was the social bookmarking service delicious. An account with the username “griots” was created (http://delicious.com/griots), which kept bookmarks of texts, articles from Greek and international press, blog posts and other media pertaining to the riots. A total of 262 bookmarks were recorded on the website from the 12th of December 2008 up to the 14th of January 2009, for a full month. This was valuable and helped reduce the time I spent searching for data using other means, such as conventional search engines. The second part of my research consisted of interviews with users of social media who actively participated in the online reporting and following of the riots, and will be analyzed in the next section.
In an effort to gain information from the users themselves, who played an important role in the way the Greek riots were framed on the web, I conducted eight interviews with users of social media. These took place in Athens and Salonica in early June 2009, and some were conducted by email since I could not get hold of the
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interviewees otherwise. The interviewees were seven men and one woman, active users of twitter and other social media. I would have liked to include more women, but few women rose to the standards I had when selecting subjects to interview. I aimed to obtain replies from ten persons, but two never answered my questions, even though they agreed to at first. Most of them have or participate in blogs, use flickr for their photographs, youtube for their videos, and are in general quite active and vocal online. A few are professional or amateur journalists and were able to provide valuable insights about the state of traditional media in Greece and to comment on their relationship with social media. The interviewees were chosen based on their activity on twitter during the riots. I ascertained that by studying the tweet messages of the period from the hashtags.org website, and tried to select users that are still active today and continue to use social media for their online communication. Most were very positive and helpful when I contacted them, willing to meet with me and answer my questions. A few of the interviewees were especially active and trend-setting during the riots, generating a large amount of content and being followed by many other users. Some of the other subjects were active in generating content but also followed the events closely using social media. I wanted to keep a balance and to discuss both sides, that of the creators of content and that of the followers of that content. I created a core of six questions, which I used for the email interviews, asking the subjects if I could contact them again if I needed to ask them follow-up questions. These same core questions were used in the live interviews as well, but in that case variations occurred depending on the direction the discussion was taking. The live interviews were more efficient in that way, more expansive and thorough, since the subjects were able to share their views and I was able to follow the flow of the discussion and ask more relevant questions as we progressed. The live interviews lasted on average between 30 minutes and an hour and were conducted informally, usually in a café or other public place. For the email interviews I sent an initial email introducing myself, stating the purpose of my research and asking the subject whether s/he would accept to answer my questions. After they replied positively I sent a second email with the list of questions, to which they wrote their answers and sent it back to me. With the two subjects that had initially agreed to respond but never did, I sent a couple of reminder emails.
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The core of questions consisted at first of a couple of simple and general questions to enable the subject to reflect on their use of social media and then moved on to more specific questions concerning the riots and traditional media. Though these questions and answers I was able to derive valuable information that helped with the overall research. More specifically, the core questions I used were: 1. How long have you been a user of twitter? 2. In what way/why do you use the service? 3. Can twitter be described as an online community? Does it enhance communication and exchange of information between users? In what way? 4. Twitter & griots: how did the service contribute to the coverage and discussion of the griots? In combination with other social media (blogs, flickr, youtube, etc.)? 5. Opposed to traditional media (tv, newspapers, radio, etc.), what do social media have to offer? How do you perceive the future of traditional media in relation to social media? 6. Do you believe that the sudden uptake in the use of new media in light of the December events consists of a unique phenomenon or not?
These were the questions that the subjects received by email and the ones I used as a discussion guide in the live interviews. With the live interviews there was a level of straying from this initial basis, since the nature of the interview is to follow the way the discussion is headed, so the direction of the interviews changed with each interviewee, though they did retain the same central theme. After conducting the interviews, the audio had to be transcribed and typed out and with the emails answers all interview material was gathered in a single document for ease of reference. The passages needed for the findings chapter and quotes I used were translated and added to the text of the findings.
Assessment of methods
The two methods used for my research were the reading of texts and studying of various articles and other media pertaining to the riots and the interviews
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conducted with users of social media. Despite some drawbacks in these methods, they proved to be overall efficient in helping me study the case and provide answers for my research questions, which were outlined in the introductory chapter. The efficiency of creating and maintaining content online was very helpful, since with the onset of web 2.0 and the rising social aspect of the web, creating content for individuals is easy, cost-free and can be hosted in many different websites. This helped produce a large amount of content which was available for studying even months after the riots ended. The online versions of newspapers helped in finding articles easily as well, something that otherwise would have to be done by accessing newspaper archives and would be time-consuming and inefficient. One major drawback was the difficulty of finding old tweet messages from twitter, since the website is not designed for retaining records of old messages. The present time is more important for the service and old messages very quickly slip into oblivion. The hashtags.org website helped to keep the tagged messages that I went through, but there are bound to be messages I missed, or couldn‟t access, that were not tagged, or were not retained by the website. It is difficult to know which of these messages might have been important or if they would have changed anything in my findings. After studying these texts the interviews provided an added resource that in addition to the online content became the basis for my findings and conclusions. The interviewees offered insights not found in the other texts and often complemented the views I already had with their specific expert knowledge. They also helped dispel some mistaken assumptions I may have had before contacting them. The drawbacks of the interview process were not being able to get hold of everyone for a live interview, not being able to get answers from everyone and the limited time which I had in order to conduct these interviews. Email was somewhat more efficient but did not leave room for elaborating and changing direction in the discussion if the interviewee wished. The results and findings of this two-fold research will be elaborated upon and analyzed in the next chapter.
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4. Findings and discussion
The events that shook Greece in December 2008 had wide repercussions on the web community. There was increased –almost frenzied– activity over various channels, such as blogs, youtube, flickr and twitter among others. Apart from the straightforward reporting from riots and demonstrations, there was also an attempt of opinion expression through discussion and writing of ideas. The events left a mood for discussion, critique and engagement in affairs of the state by members of online communities such as the blogosphere and twitter. From the first hours of the crisis, social media users were attentive to it and there was an almost constant flow of information and discussion, reporting and personal accounts from the scenes of riots and demonstrations. Twitter as a service, acted as an aggregator of news, links for blog posts, videos and photos, a service where members could follow events in realtime. The limited amount of space provided –only 140 characters– gave an air of spontaneous messaging and urgent information being passed through the networks of users on twitter. A lot of work was done on other social media as well, important and thorough work, since the medium was different and allowed more space, but twitter provided a public forum of information that brought together many users, Greek and international, who wished to find out about the events. While the events are familiar to most Greeks, especially users of social media, and while the riots were covered by international news media, it will be useful to outline the context of events in some detail before continuing with the analysis. In this way, the discussion and findings of the interviews will prove to be more relevant and meaningful to the reader. Thus, in this chapter I will offer a timeline and context of the Greek riots (#griots), findings of the research including interviews with Internet users and studying of resources from traditional and social media, and discussion of these findings.
Context of the December 2008 riots
On the night of the 6th of December 2008, in Exarcheia, a central area of Athens, a 15-year-old student was shot and killed by a police officer. Exarcheia is an
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area associated with anarchist groups, and attracts many young people and students. The official police statement concerning the incident is that the boy with several other youths provoked the officers and threw rocks at them, though eye-witnesses disputed this later on. Following the shooting there was immediate reaction by citizens. In fact, the first news of the killing was transmitted through twitter, by a user who lives nearby and heard the gunshot. His tweet was published at 9.15 pm, minutes after the gunshot and hours before any mainstream media coverage. “someone has been shot in Exarcheia” (@cpil)
Following the killing of the student there was widespread demonstrating and rioting all over the country, which lasted for several weeks, well into the Christmas holidays. Such widespread rioting, which combined demonstrations, fires, breaking into shops and looting on many occasions, had not been experienced for at least thirty years in Greece, even though it is said that demonstrations and civil unrest is quite common in the country. International media often portray Greece and its residents in such a way. An example of such rhetoric by international media is the article by BBC correspondent Malcolm Brabant titled “Rebellion deeply embedded in Greece” (2008). Brabant writes: “Rebellion is deeply embedded in the Greek psyche. The students and school children who are now laying siege to police stations and trying to bring down the government are undergoing a rite of passage” (Brabant, 2008). The riots spread in many Greek cities, fuelled not simply by the killing of the student, but from deeper dissatisfaction with the government and state of affairs. The identities of the protesters mainly comprised of youths and students, who felt exasperated by the growing pressures they face at school and university, the lack of opportunities and the bleak future. Augmented by the killing of one “of their own” it sparked feelings of closeness and identification, in a sense that “it could have been them.” There were also multiple sit-ins and occupations in school and university buildings, widespread damaging of property –especially banks and branches of multinational companies or of state interest– burning cars, vandalizing monuments and clashing with riot police. What was unprecedented was the extent of the rioting and demonstrations, which lasted for several weeks. The Hellenic Observatory of the London School of Economics published a series of essays by notable thinkers and experts analysing the events. Academics, journalists and others attempt to offer interpretations of what exactly sparked such
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widespread rage and violence all over the country. In the process, they also identify and deconstruct key features of Greek history and society, which may help throw some light on the causes of the recent events. In one of these essays, Antonis Karakousis, Editing Director of one of the most popular Greek newspapers, „To Vima‟, writes: All these events allowed many people to speak of a new social phenomenon, which others, especially other Europeans, associated with the international economic crisis, and saw it as a precursor to a wider social explosion that could be transmitted throughout and threaten Europe more generally (Karakousis, 2009: 29) There were demonstrations in other European cities as well, in solidarity of the protesters in Greece. Many were organized by Greek expatriates, but not only. One view expressed in the essays is, according to Kevin Featherstone, Professor at the London School of Economics, that the riots “raise important questions about governance and cohesion in Greek society that can be expected to linger for the foreseeable future” (Featherstone, 2009: 1). Another view of the riots by Alexis Kalokerinos, Associate Professor at the University of Crete, raises an issue of the identity of the protesting youths. As he writes, [...] The December „uprising‟ sprang from inherent structural distortions within basic social institutions which Greek society views with increasing mistrust. In other words, there is a particular substratum where one spark will suffice to ignite a wildfire at any moment in time (Kalokerinos, 2009: 24) Having provided this brief background of the riots, I will attempt to outline the way in which the Internet and social media tools also played a role during the riots. As tools of communication, information sharing and discussion among members, the use of social media in such a large scale was unprecedented and crucial to the analyses of the riots.
Social media and the Greek riots
Social media played an important role during the riots and in this section I will attempt to illustrate how this was done. Through blogs and websites such as flickr, youtube, facebook, twitter and others, content was shared, information was exchanged, and frustration was voiced. Although the use of Internet is not as
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widespread in Greece as it is in other European countries, the user community is very active and vocal and it was even more so during the December events. In an article for Reuters, Dina Kyriakidou writes that “the Greek youths‟ message moved so fast over the Web and the international response was so immediate that it surprised many in a country seen as the Internet backwater of Europe” (Kyriakidou, 2008). Led mostly by young people and students, the uprising became an expression of dissatisfaction about the limited opportunities and bleak future most young people face. As it was mentioned above, the first medium that reproduced the news of the shooting was twitter. Almost instantly the news began circulating among groups of people, some who were already in the area – which houses many bars and cafes that are usually full on a Saturday evening – and others who got the news via mobile phone or the Internet. Antonis Karakousis describes the process and writes that “the atmosphere became electrified” (Karakousis, 2009: 28). Another account, that of George Pagoulatos, Associate Professor at the Athens University of Economics and Business, describes the revolt as “both spontaneous [...] and organised, though in a decentralised manner”. Pagoulatos writes about how “hundreds or thousands of messages were sent over mobile phones and the Internet calling for demonstrations and „revenge‟ for the killing of Alexis [Grigoropoulos]” (Pagoulatos, 2009: 46). The level of solidarity with the protesters was also quite high, even by people who did not participate in the riots. Many social groups identified with the plight of the protesters, from adolescents of Alexis Grigoropoulos‟ age, parents who had children of that age, teachers, university students, and of course the more extreme leftist and anarchist groups who are always in the centre of various protests. By many members of the population, the police was seen as brutal and dominating. Several videos were seen and commented on, where bystanders not participating in the protests, shouted slogans and berated members of the riot police who were chasing and arresting students. The essays of the Hellenic Observatory of the London School of Economics, are in depth and important in analysing the causes and underlying societal problems which may have helped to spark the riots. They do not, however, refer much to the Internet and the way social media contributed to the coverage and commentary of the riots. Bloggers and journalists themselves offered a great amount of content, which is still available and accessible for anyone wishing to learn more about the riots. According to the Economist,
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Already, the Greek riots are prompting talk of a new era of networked protest. The volume of online content they have inspired is remarkable. Photos and videos of the chaos, often shot with cellphones, were posted online almost in real time. Twitter, a service for exchanging short messages, has brimmed with live reports from the streets of Athens, most of them in Greek but a few in English (Economist, 2008) International media, in contrast to their Greek counterparts, almost immediately took to the new way news were being transmitted and shared. There were liveblogging accounts of the riots, communication with Greek bloggers and twitterers in an attempt to assess the situation, mentions of twitter and its usage as a tool for reporting. Media such as the Guardian, Skynews, CNN and others responded promptly and accurately to what was taking place on the streets and online. A crucial part in the reporting and communication of the riots was the hashtag used, #griots. Hashtags enable users of twitter to follow popular topics, by aggregating tweets on a real-time stream through the twitter search tool. In this way, even if users are not following each other, they can still follow events and gain information. Twitter ranks the „trending topics‟ as they are called, by the number of tweets published containing keywords of hashtags. Thus, it is an efficient way of following popular events. The hashtag used for the riots in Greece, was #griots. Users added this tag to their tweets and they instantly appeared on the twitter search stream. Griots remained a popular way to refer to the riots, and tags were used in other media as well, such as flickr, in order to categorize content under the same theme. The #griots hashtag even made it to twitter‟s trending topics for a brief period of time, thus bringing many international users to the stream, who wished to find out more information about what was going on. This prompted Greek users to post some updates in English as well, to accommodate them and inform international users about the situation. The Greek Institute of Communication organised a colloquium in February 2009 concerning Social Media and Communication. During that colloquium the December riots were mentioned as an example of communication and mobilisation through the use of social media. The colloquium was a social event itself, with live streaming and online connection through which communication was undertaken on twitter. The speeches were later uploaded on vimeo, a video hosting website, and photographs were added on flickr, so that anyone could have access to what was being discussed. Matthew Tsimitakis, journalist, blogger and twitterer, gave a speech concerning the riots and the role of social media. He gave a brief overview of social
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media activity during the riots, which is as follows – information gathered as of February 2009. Apart from Athens Indymedia and Indy.gr, independent news sites, which proved to be valuable in organizing action, there were: at least 15 facebook groups, the most popular of which comprised more than 130,000 members; The use of the hashtag #griots, which enabled the use of twitter for following the events; more than 3,000 photographs posted on flickr using the tag, and possibly many more uncategorised; more than 700 amateur videos posted on youtube; lastly, together with traditional blogs, a new form of collaborative blogs arose. Blogs of school and university occupations, though which students expressed views and shared content, writing texts about the reasons of their protests (Tsimitakis, 2009). Tsimitakis adds that the December riots were a true social revolt, though a more decentralised one, organised in a way that the status quo did not recognize or acknowledge. Mostly online and on the streets of course, with demonstrations, riots and activity on the web. “On the web, [the revolt] took place in a much more structured manner, which differentiated systemically from or responded to the rhetoric of the status quo of the media, as this was mainly expressed though television broadcasting” (Tsimitakis, 2009). In the Greek newspaper “Kathimerini”, Yannis Souliotis writes how “mobile phones and blogs, through which real-time communication is achieved, proved to be a weapon more efficient than Molotov cocktails” (Souliotis, 2008). Users generated content and gave their own accounts of the riots, writing texts, posting photographs and videos, participating in discussions. One of the most active and important accounts was that of blogger teacherdude, a British expatriate living and working in the city of Salonica, which also saw extensive riots and demonstrations. A citizen journalist and amateur photographer, he published numerous articles accompanied with photographs from the demonstrations he attended. His blog, found at http://teacherdudebbq.blogspot.com was a valuable source of information and direct reporting from the riots in the city of Salonica, second city in Greece. Teacherdude also wrote articles which were published in the independent crowd powered news website NowPublic. One of these is titled “Social media and the Greek uprising”, in which he describes the role of social media in the riots and their relationship to traditional media. He writes that “What has been witnessed is a form of internet hyper - Darwinism in which the forces of change which usually take years have been compressed into a time frame measured in weeks”
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(teacherdude, 2008). As a key member on the online activity concerning the riots, teacherdude was also contacted by various foreign news networks, such as the Guardian, CNN and Skynews, in order to be interviewed about the riots. Many international media, both mainstream and independent contacted Greek bloggers and twitterers to gain information and used the stream of real-time tweets as a resource for reporting. The riots were also covered in Global Voices, a website collaborating with bloggers across the world in order to translate and share coverage from various events. Global Voices managing editor Solana Larsen used content from Greek social media users for her article about the riots, mentioning twitter and blogs and using photos, videos and other user-created content (Larsen, 2008). The
Guardian used the twitter stream and other resources in liveblogging articles which gave a sense of live coverage from the events. Comments posted over a period of time, using resources from the Greek press, twitter, youtube and other websites and updating every few minutes was the mode of reporting for these articles. One example is the liveblogging article covering the events on the 10th of December 2008, 4 days after the killing of Alexandros Grigoropoulos, posted in Matthew Weaver‟s news blog (Weaver, 2008). Skynews also featured interviews with bloggers and twitterers and along with footage from the demonstrations and riots, it also showed the twitter #griots stream. The video can be found on youtube, where it was uploaded by a Greek user (Skynews, 2008). In this way, it appears that international news networks and traditional media try to compete with new technologies and changes in the way content is generated and news shared and commented on. They have caught wind of new developments and have a strong online presence, having websites and many of them, twitter accounts. The crisis that traditional media, especially newspapers, are undergoing has led them to seek new ways of reaching their audience. It is notable, how about the time when the riots broke out in Athens, the Global Forum for Media Development was taking place. Andrew Lam wrote an article titled “Letter from Athens: Greek Riots and the News Media in the Age of Twitter” where he outlined the media crisis – “how citizen reporting has usurped professional reporting and how the old business model no longer holds, but new ones aren‟t working very well either” (Lam, 2008) – and gave insights on what the era of the Internet means for journalists and reporters. Lam writes about how lately and increasingly the first images and accounts received from breaking news incidents are in fact generated by civilians. He writes:
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From the earthquake in Sichuan to the subway bombings in London to the recent Mumbai terrorist attack, the initial images and information that reached the public were recorded by citizens who happened to be there. The bystanders, the witnesses – with their cell phones, cameras, camcorders and blackberries – play central roles in newsgathering and news dissemination (Lam, 2008) This is exactly what happened in the Greek cities that were overcome by riots and demonstrations in protest for the killing of the 15 year-old student. Twitter played an important role in being in the centre of the content, as it aided to aggregate news, reporting from the streets, content from other websites using links, discussion from users, translations of tweets for the benefit of international users who may have been following the stream. However, this brings forth criticism about the credibility of these sources. Despite the directness, straightforward communication and instant transmission of news, sources such as twitter may give rise to rumours and prompt action based on unconfirmed reports. It is always a risk with amateur, citizen journalists who control content posted on the web, and those who follow news from Internet sources blindly. As Lam comments, It is a dangerous world, indeed, when citizen reporters are completely trusted, both by the media institutions that incorporate them and by the audience who consume that information. The role of the mature news organization, [...] is to filter real news from pseudo news, rather than treating al content as equal (Lam, 2008) During the Greek riots, most active users did try to confirm and corroborate sources and hearsay in an effort to create credible news. To an extent they succeeded, as many people felt they were satisfied from the news they received using twitter. This issue was mentioned by a few of the interview subjects and it will be elaborated on in the next section. This is amplified by the mistrust that citizens show in Greek traditional media, which are often deemed as biased, old-fashioned, and subject to governmental influence. Various incidents have caused this attitude and the way the riots were covered by traditional media, led many users to other forms of news reporting and communication. A survey showed how the wider public reacted to the riots and reflected the overall sentiments that were outlined in social media as well. The survey was conducted by Public Issue Company, for Kathimerini newspaper. A few of the results are as follows: 60% of respondents believed that the events reflect a social revolt; 66% were dissatisfied with the way events were covered by television broadcasters; 76% expressed dissatisfaction with police attitude; and 69% believed
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the way the government handled the situation was rather wrong (Public Issue, 2008). It is apparent from these results that the public was widely dissatisfied with the government and the media for the way they handled the situation. This general atmosphere also aided the rise of social media as alternative means of communication and information sharing. Patrick Philippe Meier in his blog iRevolution, wrote some posts concerning the Greek riots. In one he commented on Andrew Lam‟s article concerning the dissemination of news via the Internet and the likelihood of protests and riots sparking. He makes a comment at the end of his post saying, As a consequence of the information revolution, the likelihood of an individual receiving and broadcasting information is increasing significantly while the likelihood of any two people communicating is increasing exponentially; and world population is also growing at a furious pace. Since each of these three variables are increasing, the overall risk of protests increases as well (Meier, 2008) In the next section I will outline and discuss the answers of the eight twitter and social media users I interviewed in order to gain some insight from the users themselves concerning the December riots and the role that social media played in them.
The eight interviewees were asked about their use of twitter and other social media, about their personal experiences during the riots and their feelings and views about the relationship of traditional and new media in the age of the Internet. The interviews were conducted in person and by email with twitterers from Athens and second city Salonica, which were both heavily affected by the riots, along with other Greek cities. Beginning with the first question, how long and in what way they are using twitter, most replies were similar. Most interviewees have been using twitter for about a year, or a year and a half and some of them did not start using it immediately after they signed up. They did not see its appeal, and it took some time for them to start using it regularly and actively. The way they use the service varies and it incorporates many aspects. They use it to keep in touch with friends, to receive news and
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information, to share links of interesting finds, to write briefly about things that are not worthy of a whole blog post, and other uses. When questioned whether twitter is a community, most of them claim that it is not. One interviewee says that “it‟s more like communication, like „tell everyone‟” (Interviewee 2, 2009). Apart from users that already know each other, in real life of through their blogs, it is not easy to create a community with the limited space for text and the constant flow of information. Interviewee 4 commented on a “nucleus of users that can act collaboratively and give the impression of a community” (Interviewee 4, 2009) but did not think that there is, in fact, a community formed among users. The way users create their networks is subject to many different interpretations and cannot easily be analysed by external commentators. Moving on, a more important aspect of the service is that of exchange of information and communication, for which the interviewees‟ answers were to the point and extensive. They commented mostly on its directness and speed. The possibility of replies between users and retweets of messages enhance the information flow. According to interviewee 7, communication and exchange of information is enhanced in two levels: “someone I follow may say something interesting, that I wouldn‟t easily get hold of otherwise. On a second level, this message may cause a conversation either to elaborate of to argue on the issue” (Interviewee 7, 2009). However, interviewee 3 expressed the problem of twitter not retaining records of the messages: “it was designed in a specific way and has not changed much, thus making it difficult to retain data” (Interviewee 3, 2009). Concerning the use of twitter and social media during the griots, all interviewees stress the importance of these outlets to the information gained and transmitted. They see twitter as the central aggregator of other media, with the hashtag extremely useful for maintaining a stream of messages easily followed, providing coverage and comments on the events. Interviewee 4 likened twitter to “the backbone of all the other social media” (Interviewee 4, 2009), while interviewee 3 compared it to what journalists term “the water-cooler, the grapevine, the meeting room” (Interviewee 3, 2009). According to interviewee 6, “the reporting done through twitter was much more direct and spherical compared to other media, [and it] gave the opportunity to various amateur journalists to share information that otherwise would have found no audience” (Interviewee 6, 2009). Users saw the opportunity of realtime news by following the stream, nearly unprecedented for Greece and unique at the time. Of further importance was the lack of an agenda of the users, which provided a
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more spherical and direct way of exchanging information, finding out what was going on in the streets and gave the international press direct eye-witness accounts of the events, without them having to rely on the local media viewpoints. As Interviewee 2 pointed out, “If you wanted to find out what was going on you could simply ask them and talk to them. So that was a big, big difference. And the message, instead of just being a bunch of kids running around, to becoming an uprising, to becoming political” (Interviewee 2, 2009). The next question had to do with the relationship of traditional media to twitter and other social media, and how the interviewees perceived it. There were very interesting and in depth responses as some of the interviewees are professional or amateur journalists themselves. Nearly all of them favoured the rise of social media, especially in Greece, were traditional media are often critiqued as inadequate, oldfashioned and biased. Interviewee 2 provided an interesting description of how Greek media operate, mostly following police reports and not bothering to get in touch with the actual events. Other interviewees also expressed dislike on how the Greek media operated and highlighted the different narratives held by traditional media and the Internet users. International media that came into contact with bloggers and twitterers formed a new narrative, which was then followed by Greek media as well. The directness and neutrality of social media were greatly valued by users. According to Interviewee 6, “I find the directness of the new media insurmountable, and the vastness of information they provide from various sources important for big events (such as the griots). Traditional media, on the other hand, have in their nature limited time and space to present news, and are bound to make selections from the material that they will present” (Interviewee 6, 2009). Some interviewees though, do not see social media as the sole providers of news, but wish to see them in a more sceptical manner. They claim that the news published is important, but that social media should be treated as another valuable source, which nevertheless needs to be verified. Objectivity cannot be achieved and as Interviewee 2 said, “you cannot judge who said it more correctly, every social medium is a subjective way of expressing a topic, you are here and you are living it from your viewpoint. What journalists chase is the objective, but again, it is not objective, it is subjective and from various other points of view” (Interviewee 2, 2009). Furthermore, Interviewee 1 claimed that the better coverage of the riots came from traditional media, due to better resources and the wider reach of audience. He
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claims that “whatever you do digitally, if it is not taken by a traditional medium, it cannot reach wide audiences. If it doesn‟t appear on TV, it does not exist” (Interviewee 1, 2009). The last theme to be discussed with the interviewees was whether they viewed this upsurge in user content and discussion during the period of the riots as a one-off phenomenon, or not. Here, again, most replies were uniform in that it was not a oneoff phenomenon, but that it set the basis for a growing awareness among users of events. Most believe that the usefulness of social media in such cases as the Greek riots is felt by users and that this will enable them to grow more. According to Interviewee 4, “the usage of new media in periods of crisis is a global, universal and escalating phenomenon. New media, such as twitter, have become mainstream tools for reporting in cases where traditional media cannot, from their nature, transmit information worthy of the events themselves” (Interviewee 4, 2009). Interviewee 2 believes that with the right trigger there could be a new eruption of protests, since “Groups are still around and the things that caused [the riots] haven‟t disappeared” (Interviewee 2, 2009). The interviews, along with other resources from traditional media and the Internet, form interesting conclusions concerning the use of social media during the riots and their relationship to traditional media. These conclusions will be outlined and analyzed in the next and final chapter.
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After having analyzed primary and empirical research in the previous chapter, this concluding chapter‟s goal is to offer answers to the research questions and concluding thoughts on the topic; to recapitulate the research questions which were first stated in the introductory chapter and a few secondary questions that came up while researching the topic and to offer tentative answers to them, and possible new pathways for future research in the area of social media. As it has been discussed in previous chapters, Internet communication and social media provide a radical new way of connecting users and creating networks. Furthermore, there is a new trend of witnessing events and publishing information about them, without the intermediary that is the traditional media sector. My initial, main research questions circled around the issue of the usage of social media in the period of the Greek riots and the relationship between traditional and social media in that occasion. While researching these themes, a few secondary questions arose, concerning the identity of twitter as an online community, and the way it has been used by users with different backgrounds and needs. In the particular case of Greece, during the crisis of the riots, social media proved to be efficient and useful in communication and reporting between users. Users from many services came together and generated a large amount of content still available for anyone interested in finding out more about the riots. The constant stream of news from twitter, with direct reports from demonstrations and riot scenes, with links from various other services with photographs, videos and other texts proved to be a valuable resource for individual users and members of the traditional media who wished to obtain more direct views from the events. International media did almost immediately respond to this extensive online activity, by using the twitter stream as a resource and by contacting users for interviews and correspondences. The nature of the activity on the web was decentralized, without an agenda and without specific organization. It was not used to organize mobilizations, demonstrations and protests, but rather to promote messages, to give information, to facilitate communication. Valuable information was offered via the twitter stream, which might not have been covered by traditional media, such as which subway stations were
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closed at the time, or where exactly there were riots at a precise moment. The way the medium is designed, its directness and nature of discussing what is happening in the present, was very helpful in these situations. Other social media helped in bringing together images and views that would not have been heard otherwise. All interviewees agreed on the value of these media in providing direct and neutral views of the events. Almost all of the content that was created during and in the aftermath of the riots is still available in a large part and can be found and viewed by any user. It is a valuable resource for research for anyone wishing to investigate the riots. Concerning the relationship of social media and traditional media, it is a very interesting relationship that offers many opportunities for further research. While for many of the satisfied users of social media they can be seen as an alternative to traditional media, more direct, speedy and neutral, the case is not as simple. The content created and published online is done by individuals, amateurs and simple citizens in most cases. In this way there is a lot of room for various problems to arise, such as non-credible data, proliferation of rumour and hearsay, inaccurate data that may lead to hasty, baseless reactions. This has been highlighted in various sources, making clear the need for sensible checking of facts and sources when dealing with amateur journalism. This may possibly be the important role of traditional media in the future. They will most likely not be replaced by social media and there cannot exactly be talk of antagonism between the two. More likely, it should be a relationship of complementary collaboration. As it was mentioned by some interviewees, they view social media as just another source, which needs to be cross-checked as any source. Social media, just because they are powered by individuals, should not be taken at face-value. There still needs to be some amount of control and scepticism when dealing with these new and still developing forms of communication. To shift to the specific Greek case, social media reached a limited audience, because the Internet is not as widespread in Greece as it is in other developed countries. Still, the work done by social media users was important and was acknowledged by international media and to a lesser extent by Greek media. Greek traditional media are still lagging behind in response to new media and the developments of the Internet. Moreover, they have in a significant amount a disillusioned audience that seeks information from alternative means. Greek media are often accused of partisanism, bias, and have faced a long-standing crisis, especially newspapers. In this context, people turned to alternative means of information and communication in order to follow the events of
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the riots. Still, we cannot talk about the whole population and more likely there was a fairly limited amount of users who chose alternative means for their information. In any case, this formed a change in the way users of social media perceive crises and utilize the services to facilitate communication during these. There have been several incidents of traditional media criticism and this added to the December riots events may have urged more people to turn to alternative means for obtaining news. As one interviewee stated though, traditional media are still very powerful in that they can reach a vast audience, have more resources and are deeply embedded in society. It has also been relevant that social media and services such as twitter rose in popularity after they were featured extensively in traditional media, thus resulting in more people finding out about them and begin using them. Thus, while social media provide valuable sources and diverse information, they cannot completely replace traditional media. The relationship should not be seen as antagonistic, but collaboration should be attempted, as it has already been done for several international news agencies. In the case of the Greek riots, social media did provide a valuable alternative to traditional media and users were satisfied by the quality of news they were receiving overall. To move on to the secondary questions, it is seen that services such as twitter and other social media, may be designed in one way, but eventually are used in many different ways according to their users‟ needs, interests and backgrounds. In this way, twitter may be used for promoting one‟s work, for publishing messages when one has updated his or her blog, for connecting with existing friends, for creating networks, for getting news, sharing links and other information, for following celebrities; or even for a combination of the above and many other uses. It has been shown that the fluid character of the Internet with its diversity of users and services provides with customized services. In the case of social media, they are what their users make them to be according to the way they use them. A website may be founded in one way, only to become popular by being used in a completely different manner. Nevertheless, twitter is not seen as an online community. Most interviewees claimed that its function does not enable the creation of a community. It may give the impression of being a community because many users interact with already existing friends and acquaintances. Its design of publishing short messages and following a network of users who in turn post short messages themselves, is very different from a
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forum, for example. Twitter cannot easily support conversations and its public identity may limit the type of messages people post. Twitter has gained a lot of popularity in recent months, rapidly increasing the amount of users in the service. It has introduced a new way of publishing messages, using short status updates and providing users with a means of expression that they cannot find in other social media. The service can provide many areas of future research, especially its usage in times of crises. A recent example was the use of twitter in the tumult that occurred in Iran after the election whose results were allegedly altered in favor of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Other incidents have also been widely discussed and covered on twitter over the past year or so, when it began gaining popularity. An article by Noam Cohen for The New York Times written mainly for the Iran uprising offers six points that make twitter a notable service in communication. These points can be applied in the Greek riots case as well and make interesting comments about the developments new media such as twitter have brought in Internet communication. The article is aptly titled “Twitter on the Barricades: Six Lessons Learned” and outlines six points concerning twitter and its use in light of recent crises and events. Firstly, twitter as a medium is difficult to censor, since it is possible to use the service without accessing the website, using various applications, mobile phones or others. Secondly, even though individual messages may seem unimportant and trivial, according to Cohen “collectively, however, the tweets can create a personality or environment that reflects the emotions of the moment and helps drive opinion” (Cohen, 2009). Thirdly, Cohen highlights how nothing is completely verified on twitter and the usage remains “a matter of trust.” The fourth point rests on how twitter can be used to misinform and trick users. Interestingly, for his fifth point, Cohen comments on the structure of the twitter community, and describes it as one having “leaders and cliques.” Lastly, Cohen‟s sixth point is about how “twitter can be a potent tool for media criticism,” commenting on the broadcasting ability of twitter and how it can be used for criticism (Cohen, 2009). Studies of the dynamics of networks, detailed content analysis of messages and other research can be conducted in various cases that still arise. In the space of this dissertation I was not able to conduct more exhaustive research on other themes of the service, but it remains a topic that is interesting and very close to current events.
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Social media have gained popularity in the last few years, but are still growing and evolving along with their users. It will be a fascinating development to follow this evolution as it progresses. These services are still in their infancy and new ones keep being created in an attempt to gather users and become popular. The coming years will probably hold new developments that will possibly be fruitful for more detailed research in the area of Internet communication, web 2.0 and social media.
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