Friday, 5 October 2007

Bloggers strike for Burma - but what did it achieve?

You may not have realised it, but yesterday there was a worldwide bloggers' strike.

Orchestrated by a group called Free Burma, the aim of the strike was to show support for the Burmese people protesting against their country's ruling military junta. Free Burma called on bloggers to 'refrain from posting to their blogs' on Thursday 4th October, and instead to display a single banner image reading 'Free Burma'.

The exercise seems at first like a nice case study in the use of social media to organise and stage a global event. Free Burma used the 'events' feature of Facebook to spread the word quickly about the strike, relied on bloggers recruiting other bloggers in their social networks, and made it easy for people to participate by giving them a piece of code to paste into their blogs to display the banner image.

By 8pm yesterday, more than 10,000 bloggers had apparently taken part. By some measures, this would be classed as an enormous success and a testament to the word of mouth marketing power of social media. Most marketers I know would give anything to attract 10,000 people to an event without printing a single flyer, making a single call, or renting a single list.

But what has actually been achieved? Those 10,000 blogs displaying the 'Free Burma' banner can't be seen by the Burmese people, because their government has blocked internet access. As a gesture of solidarity, then, it's all but useless. As some bloggers have noted, by encouraging bloggers not to post, Free Burma effectively shut down a potentially powerful worldwide lobby for 24 hours, creating 'dead air' in the blogosphere and nothing of note for the mainstream media to report. Which is why you probably weren't even aware the strike was happening.

And by 'making it easy' for people to participate, the group may inadvertently have made it too easy. Cutting and pasting a piece of javascript into a blog takes seconds. Joining a protest group on Facebook only takes a single click. People are being made to feel that by pasting and clicking they've done something to help, but in reality I doubt they have done anything to affect the situation on the ground in Burma.

But there's one way the strike might have been successful: by using social media to raise awareness of important political events among the growing number of (mostly young) people who don't watch television news or read newspapers. And if that motivates people to examine the world around them and to try to make a positive difference, then social media will indeed be fulfilling an important role in society.


Anonymous said...

Ultimately, very little of any of what we've done has affected the situation on the ground in Burma. Awareness raising really is a means to end - to get people to act - although that is often forgotten. I think it makes people feel better when we otherwise feel helpless. But, if it makes a point not to the leaders in Burma, but to those in our own countries maybe it's worth something. There are people who work to take meaningful action to support the Burmese people, and there are those who never will because they just don't have the time or motivation. If the second group is encouraged to learn more and expand their own knowledge, maybe that is a positive. It could just be our expectations are misplaced, and not our actions.

Also, there are people in Burma who have access to the internet - just not the people who need it. The military surely still has its own intelligence officers cruising the 'net everyday for news and updates. IP locaters show they are avid readers of Burma related blogs.

USpace said...

It's much better than nothing, and a lot more people are aware of this, that's a start. It's also nice to see both the Left and the Right in agreement for once.

Thank you for helping. FREE Burma!!!

Bush slammed the UN and the rulers of Myanmar in his UN speech last week. The only country that has any influence over Myanmar is China, and they can't and won't push too hard. There is too much Oil & Gas there that they need.

The UN must do something, but they never use military force to fight.
That is a huge problem.

Illegal drug and ruby fortunes are a BIG part of this too.

absurd thought -
God of the Universe wants
complete narco states

criminals in power
loving the corrupt drug war

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
shoot peaceful protesters

calling for democracy
which you must never allow

absurd thought -
God of the Universe thinks
keep trying communism

you can never KILL too much
pursuing Utopia...