The hashtag: a form of resistance?
As part of the courses organized by the I’lam Center, I’lam hosted a debate last Saturday at a hotel in Nazareth on the topic of “Activism: moving from the streets to social media?" Dozens of young people who were interested in the topic attended the debate; feminist activist Heba Yazbek, activist Myrna Safia and lawyer Mohammed Abu Ahmed supported the argument while human rights activist Janan Abdou, Sonba Alaadine and Jihad Harb formed the opposition.
Each group presented their arguments and gave evidence to back up their claims, agreeing that while the ability of activists to support their causes by carrying out physical actions can be effective, social media can raise awareness on a greater scale about Palestinian issues, such gathering support for Palestinian prisoners.
The team who believed that activism is shifting towards virtual activism argued that 74% of Internet usage today takes place on social media and therefore maintaining a strong presence on social media is the best way to promote the cause, especially when faced with a weakened political landscape. This team did not see any negative aspects to this new form of activism, saying it enhances local awareness of the issues at stake and can also reach a wider audience. It is also an easier way for people to show support for campaigns as they only have to ‘Like’ it on Facebook and not actively become involved in the field- they cited the example of a recent campaign in support of the hunger strikers on Facebook that had 1000’s of supporters on Facebook but a few dozen only showed up to a demonstration.
The opposition argued that today’s attendance and recruitment for activists involved in physical activities is comparable to that of the past but stressed that that social media provides a new type of mobility for activists as it allows their activities to be shared with the wider community quicker and to a larger base. The opposition stated that virtual activism is a type of resistance that leads to actions taking place in the real world, citing the Arab Spring and how social media encouraged people to take to the streets and protest.
The opposition team won the debate, which was judged by Ata Farahat, a journalist, and Dina Drawshe, also a journalist. This debate is the first in a series of public debates organized by I’lam.