Online communities have developed new processes to amplify their actions, and to weigh more in the mobilization.
INA Photo Agency
With the growing weight of social networks and the emergence of new platforms, online activism has grown in recent years, and has taken new forms.
In the first part of this series, “20 Minutes” takes an interest this Saturday in how some cyberactivists rely on the virality of social networks
Coordinated operations, hijacked hashtags, memes… Online communities have developed new processes to amplify their actions and have more influence in mobilization.
Militant action has changed its model.
Once purely physical, it is now developing more online.
In recent years, the Web has indeed given rise to new forms of activism and engagement.
And the lockdown period, put in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus in the spring, has accelerated this process.
"Online activism is not new, but the phenomenon has grown in recent years and has taken forms more linked to Web culture", notes Tristan Mendès-France, associate lecturer at the University of Paris -Diderot, specialist in digital cultures.
Online communities, some of which have millions of subscribers on social networks, have developed new tools that play on virality to amplify their actions.
TikTok users showed it last June during a Donald Trump meeting in Tulsa.
Teenage K-pop fans claimed they sabotaged the town hall by reserving thousands of seats at the Bok Center to hijack the registration system online.
“By playing on processes that they master perfectly, thousands of Internet users have coordinated to mislead the campaign team of the American president.
It was a fairly spectacular coup de force, ”recognizes Tristan Mendès-France.
"Drown a service under the flow of information"
Coordinated operations of this kind have multiplied in recent months.
At the end of May, when the US government tried to ban demonstrations after the death of George Floyd, who died of suffocation during his arrest by the police, the Dallas police posted an application online that invited users to submit videos of illegal acts.
“But instead of reports, the application, called iWatch Dallas, was inundated with K-pop clips sent by fans sensitive to the anti-racist cause,” explains Tristan Mendès-France.
Internet users also gave the app the lowest rating on the Apple App Store and Google Play.
"One way to make it more difficult for users to find, or even to cause its withdrawal," adds the specialist in digital cultures.
Due to technical difficulties iWatch Dallas app will be down temporarily.
- Dallas Police Dept (@DallasPD) May 31, 2020
This process used by Internet users, which consists in sending “erroneous” data to a system that one wishes to neutralize, is not however new.
"These operations, which mobilize thousands of Internet users who attack in a coordinated manner a person or an institution, recall the" raids "from 4chan, an American far-right forum, but also the actions of Anonymous", notes Tristan Mendès -France.
What is new is that this practice, which has already demonstrated its success on several occasions in the past, has now become "generalized".
"Divert hashtags" by playing on algorithms
K-pop activists - always them -, who number in the millions on social networks, have developed other methods to amplify their actions.
Very present on Twitter, they undertook last May to drown the messages of users opposed to anti-racist demonstrations by diverting the hashtags used by them.
“They attacked white supremacist hashtags like #WhiteLivesMatter, and other keywords pushed by the American far right, like #ExposeAntifa.
Each time with the same method: drowning the effectiveness of these hashtags by referring them to sequences extracted from K-pop videos, ”explains Tristan Mendès-France.
maybe if y'all stanned bts rather than being racists #WhiteLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/4GRIfFvuWu
- ً (@koovlt) June 3, 2020
They thus played on Twitter's recommendation algorithm to make it impossible - or at least to complicate as much as possible - the search for racist content.
In early October, the LGBT community also hijacked the hashtag #ProudBoys (“proud boys”), which refers to a far-right American nationalist group, by posting photos of gay couples and pro-LGBT images to, again, hijack the original message.
"Cheating algorithms, whether on Twitter, Facebook or Discord, is not a very complex science today," explains Fabrice Epelboin, teacher at Sciences Po Paris, specialist in social media.
Activists use it to create hashtags or to promote a cause.
It is a basic tool in online activism, which when used on a large scale, helps to create the illusion of mass, crowd.
This is called astroturfing.
Remembering our beautiful honeymoon trip to the Galapagos Islands #ProudBoys pic.twitter.com/Sk2ttj17e6
- Paul Murphy (@homewithmurph) October 4, 2020
The meme, "the tool par excellence of contemporary activism"
But the most popular device for mobilizing Internet users, or spreading a message to the greatest number, remains the same, namely an element taken up and declined en masse on the Internet.
"Online activism today involves the use of memes, a little silly, a little light, but which convey very serious messages", explains feminist activist Anna Toumazoff, creator of the @memespourcoolkidsfeministes account, followed by nearly 100,000 subscribers.
“It is a real tool that allows you to quickly acquire a fairly exceptional virality.
We can tag them, share them and put them in a story.
Even if they sometimes make people laugh, in the end, they often give rise to a real debate in the comments.
It is a full-fledged way of mobilizing people, of making them aware of a subject.
It is now an integral part of the paraphernalia of the online activist, ”adds the feminist activist.
View this post on Instagram
MAKE IT FREE
A post shared by Anna Toumazoff (@memespourcoolkidsfeministes) on Aug 28, 2020 at 4:46 am PDT
“Memes elicit emotional reactions that are always very strong.
They play on humor, on being touched emotionally, or on scandal and indignation, points out the anthropologist Nicolas Nova, co-author of the book
La culture Internet des mèmes
(editions of the Polytechnics and University Presses romandes).
We don't just repeat or stupidly copy a message, we transform it, we personalize it, and that's how we create new memes that reach more people.
The messages are simplified, adapted to each subculture, and repeated endlessly, which makes them formidable levers when it comes to getting an idea across.
The TikTok application appears today as the preferred platform for disseminating memes.
“When Internet users mobilized to sabotage Trump's meeting, they filmed themselves from the front with the same background, and the same gestures.
It is, in itself, a meme, ”recalls Tristan Mendès-France, who also quotes the campaign launched last year by Internet users of the Uyghur community who have posted videos on TikTok in which they put themselves in scene with photos of their missing relatives.
“Playing the virality of a popular device is a new form of activism in itself.
And it is a major component of activism today ”.
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