“If young people are growing up in movement societies, where scripts and practices from social movements have become part of everyday thinking, and producing online protest actions has become extremely inexpensive, particularly to those who have moderate computing skills, then we should expect that young people will begin to use online protest-organising tools to mount protests about issues they care about”.
– Howard Rheingold, 2008.
Online engagement on a website or through social media has the ability to get citizens involved in political or social change. It can also be a highly effective method for mobilisation, particularly for protest events, such as the 2014 Australian ‘March in March’ and ‘March in May’ events, both which were promoted through social networking sites. Protesting, of course, holds physical presence as more important than its virtual counterpart, with even Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg stating in May 2011: ‘It would be particularly arrogant for a technology company to claim to have a role in the protest movements… Facebook was neither necessary, nor sufficient [for these protests]’ (Tusa, 2013). But, it is also true that the organisers of the protests, mostly young educated people who use the Internet daily, took advantage of it for spreading ideas and information. It is online political stimulation, as well as the networking and sharing capabilities of social media that can often act as the main platform for sharing discontent and generating physical participation.
We had the opportunity to attend the #May21protest and speak to some of the individuals involved in rallying against the new budget cuts to university fees. As a university-related protest event, the vast majority of the 2000-strong crowd (Ross, 2014) were under 30. We had found out about the protest through a Facebook invite and used the event to record audio interviews with attendants. We asked a series of questions in relation to social media and participation in civic events.