Open Source Protest: Rights, Online Activism, and the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games (2011)


Adi, A. & Miah, A. (2011) Open Source Protest: Rights, Online Activism, and the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, in Cottle, S. & Lester, L. Transnational Protests and the Media. Peter Lang,213-224.  

"In a global, digitally mediated world, there are various dimensions of contemporary protest culture that require our reconsideration. First, the expansion of communication technology permits local concerns to reach a global audience with considerable immediacy who, in turn, may also actively shape their reception. A good example of this is the British celebrity Stephen Fry’s re-tweeting of content related to the Iran election concerns of 2009 (McElroy, 2009). In this case, a celebrity’s sharing of content and active interpretation of what was taking place thus becomes a primary frame around the issue at hand. This is a clear example of a celebratory acting both as an activist, cultural intermediary, and journalist. An open media culture requires that some control over one’s ‘brand’ or agenda is devolved, thus permitting the community to own and shape its development. This transition presupposes a shared value system, against which people may act and, while it is not difficult to imagine there is common ground in some cases, such as the world economy or climate change, it will require considerable work to ensure that local concerns have the kind of relevance for a global audience that would lead to greater support, rather than audience apathy. This may require local communities to compromise on their issues for a wider audience in order to optimize the profile of their concerns. For example, a community protests about local housing policy injustice may seek an alliance with other such communities in other parts of the world.

Second, the rise of transnational concerns means that protests against the institutions that do business across borders will find themselves under greater scrutiny by even greater advocacy groups. Thus, the growing monopolization of global companies creates a series of tensions for both politicians and user communities. Such challenges were reflected in the 2010 dispute between China and Google over uncensored search engines, which demonstrated that such a universally shared view about media freedom and access to information is not yet apparent. The debacle gave rise to considerable acts of protest over China’s Internet laws.  More familiar examples of transnational protests have arisen in the context of fair-trade or ethical trade products, or concerns about the child labour. In the context of the Olympics, this has particular relevance, since its financial base is supported by some of the world’s biggest brands, such as McDonald’s, Visa, Lenovo, Coca-Cola, etc. From one perspective, the Olympic Games could function as a device to make such companies more publicly accountable – for example by adhering to the IOC’s environmental policies - and so one may argue that the Olympics is an arbiter of activist concerns. Yet, the broader social concerns about how such companies may benefit from a mega-event that many members of the public believe should be free from corporate interests, deems that this mechanism of building greater corporate responsibility may not always be a primary value for the general public.  Finally, a global, digital era requires us to interrogate what counts as activism or protest. While we strongly advocate the idea that even the most minimal gesture online should qualify – such as sharing a website address via the social networking platform Twitter, which may require little more than two clicks of a mouse button – it will be necessary to consider strategically how different forms of activism lead to different results. Clearly, what arises from a Web 2.0 era of user-generated content is the capacity to build impact from the ground up. This is why a powerful web community can out perform a large transnational company in such terms as Google rankings and general visibility, as is typified by viral marketing campaigns. Yet, it remains to be seen whether digital activism – or hacktivism – can generate a significant impact without receiving attention from traditional media. Of course, as a campaign escalates, there comes a point where the traditional media become an integral part of the cycle of news syndication, so these are incredibly difficult phenomena to analyze in isolation. Nevertheless, further research may study the interaction of traditional and online journalism to better gauge how convergence - a term that was applied to media systems in the 1990s - has reached the level of protest culture. In the Olympics, we suggest that this is already apparent."