Historically, oppressive regimes and dictatorial figures were opposed in a structured, subtle approach – through the formation of underground groups, propaganda activity in non-permitted newspapers, possibly broadcasting of coded radio messages.
If revolution was secret, discretionary, single-handedly led by a minority of leaders, aimed at the majority of citizens, nowadays social media has completely redefined the face of revolution.
It is now instead public, global in cases, viral, powered, led and executed by the digitally empowered individual, no leaders, but millions of contributors.
Previously, in the revolution of the Eastern Bloc before the fall of the Berlin Wall, fax machines were a powerful communication tool. This was the case for Russia’s Bolshevik revolution too. Jihadists, later on, were known to use videotapes and cassettes to record and save their messages.
Now, digital platforms have acted as a massive positive supply shock to the spread and cost of information, to the ease and spread of public speech by citizens, and to the scale and speed of coordination.
In the past, traditional media played as a filter – if something was on the front page of The Times, it was important. Journalists would determine significance in current affairs.
Yet today anyone could post, share, broadcast. Anyone could spread an idea which is why social media has gained significant role in shaping social events.
If previously time and space were crucial, now a small group of determined people, not necessarily occupying the same place, could influence on a much larger scale.
All of these underline the basic point: social media tools have altered the dynamics of the public sphere.
Where power was previously limited, only granted to a few, it is now easier to achieve, but somehow harder to maintain.
If social media has presented us with an opportunity to disrupt, we still are in the process of figuring out how to bridge the gap from disruption to legitimacy.
This is the problematic part. We’ve seen it in the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street – chaotic at times, with hardly any long-term results.
So the road ahead is somehow blurry, but one thing is clear. The hegemony days are finished. Power is not absolute anymore, but will be grounded in shared principles.