Reposts, retweets, revolutions: How social media sparked change in 2010s

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Secondary school students cover their right eye as they hold up their phone torches while attending a rally at Edinburgh Place in Hong Kong on Thursday. Hong Kong student leaders on Thursday announced a two-week boycott of lectures from the upcoming start of term, as they seek to keep protesters on the streets and pressure on the government. Anthony Wallace, AFP/file

They say there are decades where nothing happens and there are weeks where decades happen.

This rings true as the 2010s witnessed massive movements throughout the world: governments toppled, leaders deposed, and systems challenged. But in this decade, a major player emerged — social media.

Here are some of the events both international and local where social media played a vital role initiating change:

ARAB SPRING

The Arab Spring was a series of anti-government protests in the Middle East and North Africa. Protesters fought against dictatorships and demanded for a better living standard. 

Social networking sites were used as tools to counter government propaganda and as a venue for political discussion. They took advantage of the platform to air grievances but most importantly, to encourage people to join them in the streets.

It started in Tunisia in December 2010 and ended after three weeks when the 23-year-old regime of then-president Ben Ali crumbled. As stories about the Tunisian revolution spread worldwide, there was no stopping activists of neighboring countries replicating the success in Tunis. 

Egyptian protesters chant next to a poster of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi during a demonstration to demand he step down in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Feb. 25, 2011. Militias loyal to Gadhafi opened fire on protesters streaming out of mosques in the Libyan capital on Friday, demanding the regime's ouster, witnesses said, reporting at least four killed. Across rebellious cities in the east, tens of thousands held rallies in support of the first Tripoli protests in days. Kevin Frayer, AP/file

Civil unrest sparked in Egypt (January 2011), Libya (February 2011), and Yemen (June 2011) where its leaders were deposed. The bloodiest was the Tripoli protests, which resulted in the Libyan civil war. The country's then dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, was killed and a transition government was established.

Videos uploaded online by rebels showed Gadhafi's brutal fate before his death. Social media was vital in breaking the news of the strongman's demise and in later investigations. 

Materials shared online by those on the ground became a source of information for international media, showing the platform's effectiveness in swift information dissemination. 

The trailblazing protests in the Arab world is historic because of its political and economic significance. It showed the world that the disillusioned will not be silenced for too long and with the help of social media, their voices were heard and reverberated beyond boundaries.

OCCUPY MOVEMENT

New York City witnessed protests so informal yet so successful. In September 2011, frustrated Americans marched on Wall Street to condemn social and economic inequality, and the greed and corruption in the business sector.

The movement started when some scores of activists occupied a park near the financial hub in response to a publication's call for protests. 

Mounted police officers push into crowds of Occupy Wall Street protestors in Times Square the day after the demonstrators successfully resisted a potential eviction from their camp in Zuccotti Park, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011, in New York. Thousands of demonstrators protesting corporate greed filled Times Square on Saturday night, mixing with gawkers, Broadway showgoers, tourists and police to create a chaotic scene in the midst of Manhattan. John Minchillo, AP/file

Protesters shared updates about their movement through social media aside from their grassroots publication. 

Occupy Wall Street was so successful that by October, similar strikes happened in more than 80 countries, including the Philippines.

In Hong Kong, Occupy Central was the name given to the protests that paralyzed parts of Hong Kong in late 2014. Like the Occupy Movement in the United States, the protesters encamped a portion of the financial hub's business district.

Opposition leaders and activists denounced Beijing's interference in the autonomous region's elections. Pro-democracy camps played a key role in the strike, calling on the public to fight for Hong Kong's independence. 

The 2014 strikes saw the use of umbrellas to fight tear gas attacks by police. As the government offensive intensified, protesters shared on social media photos and videos of the excessive force used against them. 

Activists open yellow umbrellas during a gathering outside the government headquarters to mark the fourth anniversary of mass pro-democracy rallies, known as the Umbrella Movement, in Hong Kong on September 28, 2018. Anthony Wallace, AFP/file

This effectively gained them support from people online and ordinary citizens who volunteered to help in their logistical needs.

Come 2019, Hong Kong is once again facing large protests against Beijing's encroachment in the affairs of the autonomous region.

Millions once again trooped to the street, sparked by an extradition bill that would have allowed the extradition of criminal suspects to the mainland. 

While the bill was withdrawn, protests that sometimes led to violence are still ongoing and are far from over. 

PINOY ONLINE ACTIVISM

Filipinos love social media. And so it was expected that with the rise in popularity of social media platforms, Filipinos brought their brand of activism into the digital sphere. 

Probably the first major online mobilization that moved thousands of people for an environment cause was the "Save 182 Movement," which started in 2012 in Baguio City. 

Protesters from various sectors exposed the plans of a mall to uproot a total of 182 pine trees on Luneta Hill to give way to its expansion. 

For days, the online protests came in different forms until it spilled onto the streets. There were flash mobs, cultural presentations and concerts.

Finally in 2019, the Supreme Court made permanent a 2015 temporary restraining order it issued preventing SM from cutting more trees for its expansion.

Another is the Philippine version of the "Million People March" in 2013. 

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