Amsterdam Center for Social Media

Online-Protest: Pluralization and Polarization of Voices in Social Media

monsanto picBy Friederike Schultz

With the rise of social media and the transformation of societies towards globally networked societies, protest actors gain new ways for affecting corporations’ reputation and legitimacy. Through blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, communication can potentially speed up, become more interactive and produce participation across organizations and various audiences (Castello, Morsing & Schultz, forthcoming). Two examples spread the social media sphere very recently: In the beginning of November 2013, the global company Google has connected the commentary system on the video plattform Youtube, which is owned by Google, with its social network google+. Users responded critical via social media and started to post videos on youtube to criticize Google for this decision (e.g., http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFOjzBEHxd0).

They also set up a petition against this initiative, which was signed by more than 200.000 users within a view days. Another recent example is the grass root movement „March Against Monsanto“, which protests against the Monsanto corporation and its genetically modified organisms. According to the protest movement, Monsanto’s foods can lead to serious health conditions such as the development of cancer tumors, infertility and birth defects. Protest marches took place on the 25th of May 2013 in more than 330 places around the world, but mainly USA, and again on the 12th of October 2013. They were amongs others announced on the protest movements facebook page, which has meanwhile 250.000 likes, and covered by traditional media. As these two examples document, the dynamization of communication through social media changes the interplay between business and society and leads to higher plurality on the one hand, but also polarization of voices in the public debate on the other. To what extend these protest voices can reach public awareness and accordingly affect corporations legitimacy in turn depends also on power and economic relations of and between social and traditional media, as recent research from our center discusses (Castello et al., forthcoming).

Castello, I., Morsing, M. & Schultz, F. (forthcoming): Communicative Dynamics and the Polyphony of Corporate Social Responsibility in the Network Society, Journal of Business Ethics.


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