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Social Activism and Establishment Media360°ANALYSIS

A student movement in Mexico challenges the monopolization of traditional media through the use of social media and their rise provides an interesting study in media both old and new.

Like a bizarro Tea Party mixed with the youthful cyber-savvy and anarchistic Occupy Movement, emerges the Yo Soy el 132 ("I am the 132"), a collection of student activists demanding an end to the corporate monopolization of the economy and the media.  Protesters partly blame the defeat of their candidate, the leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador from the Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD), on the mainstream media’s coverage of the election.  They argue that Televisa, a media company controlling 70% of the country’s television broadcast media, explicitly portrayed their candidate in a negative fashion, while reserving unabashed praise for the victor, Enrique Pena Nieto of the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI). Indeed, leaked cables from Wikileaks allege that the candidate may have paid for favorable coverage since 2009.

The Root of Animosity

In the view of the new movement, Pena Nieto represents everything that is wrong with Mexico’s democracy.  They claim he is inexperienced, overly-reliant on his good looks and the champion of a party that governed Mexico with an iron fist for 71 years.  In general, Mexican students are no friends of his party, the PRI, which in 1968 notoriously gunned down students at an anti-government demonstration, killing hundreds.  The massacre of Tlatelolco as it was known, came to represent national shame and has since become a symbol of martyrdom for student movements. 

Social Movements and Social Media

The Yo Soy el 132 emerged out of a wave of social media activism, in response to the over centralization of tradtional media in the hands of the few and powerful.  Through twitter, youtube and facebook, the movement has effectively communicated its message to a wider prospective audience.  Like in the Arab Uprisings of 2011, these outlets have also proved an effective organizing tool, capable of coordinating mass demonstrations and raising awareness in civil society.

While there is no question that Mexico’s television broadcast media is controlled by a few networks favoring the PRI, the emergence of social media as a campaign tool has been decentralized and inclusive.  It allows political campaigns to engage with users on a personal level and on a mass scale.  Facebook fan groups provide voters with a space to find quick up-to-date information on a candidate and then share their views with friends, creating a multiplier effect.  Indeed, 40 mn Mexicans are connected to the internet, nearly double the amount in the last election six years ago, making the use of digital social communication an invaluable tool for campaigns across the politcal aisles.

Unlike traditional media, such as newspapers, television and radio, social media partly dismantles the division between the producers and consumers of content.  Users are able to generate, consume and then actively analyze the information presented to them, all within the same platform. 

However, the changes only go so far.  Social media is not at all separate from traditional sources.  In fact, it is largely a means of disseminating, commentating and summarizing content created by traditional media outlets.  While the process of sharing and promotion is more participatory and inclusive than voicing one’s opinion through a syndicated article, ultimately an effective tweet or facebook post relies on links to already well-established credible sources. 

During the Mexican elections, the distribution of traditional media paralleled the distribution of social media.  Studies concluded that the PRI also dominates the social media-scape – winning the so called “battle of clicks.”  Conversely, the leftist PRD, the party of the tech-savvy Yo Soy el 132 finished last, well behind even the conservative PAN, which placed third in the national elections.

Disseminating the Cause

Rather than fundamentally changing who controls the discussion, social media often only alters how well-established figures engage with the public. This does not imply that new actors cannot emerge independent of traditional sources, or that marginal public figures cannot use social media to elevate their reach.  Entire political movements have been born on Twitter, Facebook and Youtube and unfunded individual blogs have gained notoriety as credible sources.   Yo Soy el 132 movement emerged by broadcasting their message to those with common sympathy across the country.  However, overwhelmingly, public figures with high profiles have an edge in the social media-scape. Those with more resources can afford to promote their content in these outlets and hence eclipse smaller players.

Reflecting the rise of the Yo Soy el 132, social media is most inclusive, when applied to a cause rather than a figure or campaign.  It has the ability to raise broad awareness on issues censored or ignored in traditional media-spheres.  People relate more to the credibility of a new movement voicing a particular interest or concern, than they do to an unknown figure.  From there, support for the cause gains momentum and powerful figures can then emerge.  Often the traditional media will pick up on these movements, further cementing its credibility with the public and in turn perpetuating its presence on social media.  New supporters can then engage with this previously marginal cause, which then receives a multiplier effect through sharing.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.