Monday, October 11, 2010

Iceland’s Orange Facebook “Revolution”

There is a lot of discussions these days on Malcom Gladwell’s article in the New Yorker on the role of social media in civic activism. In it he points out that many of the cases mentioned in the press around the use of Twitter are not as accurate as people would think. An example of this is the uprising in Iran back in 2009 which often emphasized the use of Twitter by the protesters. He points out that in fact is that most of the Twitter users were Iranians in the West who were communicating about what they heard was happening.

But I wanted to provide a case from the Icelandic Financial Crash in October 2008 that utilized Facebook as a medium to change a revolution that was happening. As mentioned in a previous post, then Iceland went more deeply through the financial crisis than most countries and after little action on behalf of the government protests broke out and were growing every day. What was even worse was that the protests were growing more and more violent as time passed. A rather small group of protesters was vandalizing property and attacking the police.

But one person thought of a way to counter this violence which was hitting a boiling point. He was someone who had many friends (1000+) in his social network on Facebook and he suggested to them that everyone who wanted to have the protests be peaceful should wear orange the following day. He also suggested people changed their profile picture to orange if they supported this initiative.

Immediately people picked up on this and before the sun rose the following morning over 10000 people had signed up for this orange “revolution”. That day people showed up wearing orange and took their position between those that did not wear orange and the police, stopping any kind of violence from happening.

Needless to say protests very quickly changed from the violence they had been in the preceding days and weeks to more peaceful protests where instead of beating the police people started beating pots and pans (and the revolution got the nickname “Pots and Pans revolution”.

This shows how you can quickly change the path of a revolution from a violent one to a peaceful one through the power of social media. Now did that happen this way in Iceland because the majority of the country is addicted to Facebook or could this also happen in other western countries?

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