How social media saved socialism
Ben Tarnoff writes in the Guardian:“Grievances alone don’t produce political movements. A pile of dry wood isn’t enough to start a fire. It needs a spark – or several.
“For the resurgent left, an essential spark is social media. In fact, it’s one of the most crucial and least understood catalysts of contemporary socialism. Since the networked uprisings of 2011 – the year of the Arab spring, Occupy Wall Street and the Spanish indignados – we’ve seen how social media can rapidly bring masses of people into the streets. But social media isn’t just a tool for mobilizing people. It’s also a tool for politicizing them.
“The mainstream media tends to be hostile to the left: proximity to power often leads journalists to internalize the perspectives of society’s most powerful people. The result is a public sphere that sets narrow parameters for permissible political discourse, and ignores or vilifies those who step outside of them. That’s why social media is indispensable: it provides a space for incubating new kinds of political thinking, and new forms of political identity, that would be inadmissible in more established channels.
“Every movement needs a petri dish for developing the specific contagion with which it hopes to infect the body politic. The Reformation had the printing press. The French revolution had the coffeehouse. Today’s new new left has Twitter and Facebook.
“Bubbles can be beneficial. They can provide an emerging movement with a degree of unity, a sense of collective identity, that helps it cohere and consolidate itself in its fragile early phases.
“Of course, movements can’t stay bubbles if they want to win. They have to move from the margins to the mainstream. But social media is the soil where they can begin to take root, where they can cultivate a circle of allies and agitators who will carry their ideas out into the wider world. And this is good for democracy, because it enables genuinely popular political alternatives to emerge. It weakens the power of elites to police the limits of political possibility, and amplifies voices that could not otherwise make themselves heard.
“Instead of sealing people off into echo chambers, social media can serve as a stepping stone for movements that aspire to achieve mass appeal. Just because social media helps midwife a movement doesn’t mean that movement is fated to insularity.”