Cyber Activism and Political Mobilization-The Internet and Activism: A study on #bansterlite Protest


In March 2018, protestors filled the streets in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district as a part of the social movement (#bansterlite) demanding the closure of the Sterlite Copper Smelter Plant. Prior to their protest in the streets, #bansterlite was a movement that used online platform as a tool and spread messages across various social media sites like twitter, facebook, youtube, instagram and other interactive webpages. Lately, there has been an intensive discourse and discussion globally that social media plays a major role on opinion building and representation. Some civic movements are said to be stimulated by social media. However, in India, the strategy of utilizing internet communication as a tool for activism is relatively new. The growing use of Web 2.0 technologies in our everyday lives is a topic that is not yet fully researched or understood largely. Hence the study tries to understand how social networking sites has changed the ways of communication and paves way to public to discuss anything fearlessly and thereby becoming a force to form a movement and agitation. Social movements interaction has always been complemented by various media like leaflets, brochures and newsletters to reach large numbers of people. Hajnal(2002) in her work has mentioned that, these medium has only facilitated external communication all these years but it did not revolutionize social movements. Only with the recent rise of internet and their links with world wide web, citizen groups and social movements have reached new level in ways in which they mobilize, build coalitions, inform, lobby, communicate and campaign.

It appears that research community has neglected the role of internet in the ‘extra institutional’ characteristics and capacities that offers a great potential for increased citizen participation(Donk et al 2005) but the focus on researchers were on how well network-based social movements worked with traditional players such as political parties (Gibson et al.2003; Hoff et all.2000; Hague & Loader1999). Hence this paper focuses on finding the significant strength of social media in creating political awareness and mobilizing political protests among informal citizen groups or the mentioned ‘extra institutional’characteristics. #bansterlite movement is examined as one of the case studies to understand the role of social media in order to make predictions for the future. It is done by collecting data by both online and in-person presences of the group. In-person data is collected from the place where the protest happened i.e. in the district of Thoothukudi by interviewing prominent people who were a part of the protest. Online data is collected using the no.of shared stories across social media platforms like facebook and twitter. By analyzing both online and in-person data, a more holistic view and new ways of understanding activism is unveiled.

Keywords: Activism, Online activism, Internet, Mobilization, Protests, Social media, Social movements