“We are meeting at 22:30 under the Monument of Independence. Dress warm, bring umbrellas, tea, coffee, good mood and friends. Reposts are highly encouraged.”
This, at first sight, innocent Facebook post by Ukrainian journalist Mustafa Nayyem (November 21, 2013) was the start of the country’s self-organised uprising.
This was hardly the first example of a revolution to have a life of its own online. Social media by 2013 had already stood its ground as an influential tool in major issues. The Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, Iranian Elections had all happened before this.
And nor will it be the last example of social media empowerment.
But certainly, it would be another first – the first truly successful social media uprising.
Late November. The Government of then president Viktor Yanukovych suspended preparations for the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, which would have marked a decisive step away from the centuries-long orientation towards Russia and the east. The denial of the agreement, indeed, seemingly kept Ukraine closer to Russia than the European Union.
In a country that had been building a preference towards a more balanced policy for years – the Orange Revolution that preceded the protests in 2013 also demanded closer EU ties in 2004. Logically, the current announcement sparked the start of a self-organised, self-sourced and self-led uprising.
Kiev’s Independence Square, the action field, was dubbed #Euromaidan by pro-EU activists on Twitter and in the space of 24 hours the hashtag’s use erupted to 21,000 mentions. In the matter of 11 days, this changed to more than 750,000 Twitter uses.
Simultaneously, a Facebook page was created at the very start of the protests, on November 21, which gained over 125,000 likes.
It was an integrated social media campaign, and while it appeared across several digital platforms, researchers claim that Facebook had the pivotal role in mobilisation, a logistical tool, while Twitter distributed news and information of ongoing progress.
And if back in 2004 during the Orange Revolution, neither Facebook, nor Twitter existed, and information would have been available only via traditional media, this time around social media had provided empowerment through its ability to spread information quickly.
And while in the previously discussed cases of the Arab Spring and the Iranian Elections, we concluded that social media failed in terms of organising the rebellions, in Ukraine social media helped mobilize protesters and keep them informed. Better and faster than traditional media, which clearly took a backseat.
As a result, three months of demonstrations ended with the dismissal of Yanukovych. The citizens not only raised their voices, but had them heard.
And while we had previously discussed protests that failed to make much of a long-term impact as a movement, in Ukraine, a government fell.
The movement was consequential, and this, I’d conclude, is due to the first time activists used social media as a coordinational tool.
It seems clear that the civic and political actors in this process have had an experience that can only be defined as mind-altering for them, and structure-altering for us.