Mobilizing the People: Transcending Borders through Social Media

Much has been said about social media’s role in empowering marginalized populations, revolutionizing the ability to share and utilize information worldwide.  In authoritarian governments, where non-regime approved opinions are often silenced, social media allows individuals to advocate and collaborate with their similarly minded peers within their own countries and around the world.  It is this collaboration through social media that Alec Ross, former Department of State Senior Advisor for Innovation, has called the prime medium for the establishment of social change movements.

New forums for social interaction have provided worldwide access to an endless supply of information and news.  As a result, power has shifted from large traditional information providers, such as governments and the mainstream media, to the citizens themselves.  Oscar Morales’s One Million Voices Against FARC is one of social media’s first success stories, as Morales was able to mobilize millions of Colombians against terrorism using Facebook. The movement started by providing the public with the face of a victim, in this case the child of a FARC rape victim, whose story was circulating around the news at the same time.  This timing caused the movement to go viral gaining thousands of supporters on Facebook within hours of its inception.  Rather than let one image define his movement, Morales continued to provide information to his network. Through social media, he was able to organize the movement to reveal more victims to the public, to provide videos, photos, and information against the FARC.  This movement spread across the globe, leading to demonstrations around the world with millions of people in attendance.

In addition to giving social media users the power of information, the new leaderless format of movements has helped to create anonymity for the founders of movements and protect their members. For example, We are All Khaled Said, an influential movement against the Egyptian Government in the weeks leading up to the Egyptian Revolt, was able to use anonymous social media accounts to provide a level of secrecy necessary to evade the dangers of government persecution and punishment.  Additionally, Facebook and other media outlets allowed the movement to connect with other networks and movements, providing wide-ranging support, as well as legitimacy, to the group.

Though social media has ushered in a new era of global community, citizen journalism and information sharing, many academics would advise against buying into the belief that social media, and social media alone, has led to some of the most dramatic social upheavals of recent history. Rather, Jon B. Alterman argues in “The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted,” that it was social media’s ability to empower individuals and convey information to the traditional media that made it a tool of revolutionaries, not a revolutionary force in and of itself.

Nonetheless, social media has facilitated the opening of closed societies and in this new era of global interconnectivity, it will continue to mobilize and connect individuals around the world, shifting traditional means of geopolitics to a more population-centric approach.

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Foundlings of The FARC?

Conflicting narratives have been emerging regarding the treatment of women and children by the FARC. Both supporters and opponents of the Marxist guerilla movement have been prolific in their praise or condemnation of the movement’s treatment of women and children.

The FARC likes to portray its movement as a healthy crèche of the next wave of Marxist guerillas trained from birth to fight for the people’s revolution.  However, while women in the FARC are supposed to be “fighters as well as mothers,” some have alleged that young mothers have been forced into unwanted abortions in order to preserve their effectiveness as fighters. Male fighters are allowed to fall in love with their female comrades, as long as they continue to perform their duties responsibly.  Through photos, the FARC publicizes the prominent roles that women in children play in the movement.  The FARC aimed to give birth to a “new socialist culture” in the jungle, poised to take the decadent cities.

Nevertheless, women in the FARC have their children stolen away from them to be raised communally, a system that harkens back to Maoist communal childcare. Since Marulanda’s death, there have been increased reports of combatants abandoning their ranks, who complain that cases of rape, boredom and lack of direction in the jungle have led to low morale and defections. Many women get punished, raped and executed, and the romantic idea of female as revolutionary fighters is long gone. If these allegations are true, they raise questions about the long-term sustainability of the FARC, given that a third of the movement’s members are women.

Colombian newspaper El Cambio published an article claiming that the FARC’s new generation of leaders has resorted to kidnapping children as young as young as 8 or 9-years-old to boost the group’s cadre of soldiers.  The daily El Specatador even went so far last January as to call Colombia “The Congo of Latin America,” because of the prevalence of child soldiers employed by The FARC.

If these developments continue, the FARC, already on the wane, will be increasingly marginalized in Colombian society.  The FARC is turning into an example of the insurgent groups that Jeffrey Gettleman described in his Foreign Policy article, groups that morph from national resistance groups into criminal syndicates, movements that prefer hiding in the bush, “where it is far easier to commit crimes.”

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Dance, Dance… Revolution?!?

Who says revolutionary struggle can’t be fun? Not Colombia’s FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army).  Latin America’s longest running militant Communist revolutionary organization hadn’t been having the best of luck, what with the rescue of Ingrid Betancourt and the death of the group’s leader, Manuel Marulanda. The long years of wandering in the jungles, despite the FARC’s impressive record of kidnapping and sowing chaos, hadn’t brought Marulanda’s cadres any closer to taking Bogota and power. The FARC needed recruits and new wind in its sails.

How did the group plan to do this? More bombings? More kidnappings? Asking for help from Chavez’s sympathetic socialist Venezuela? No. Instead, the FARC chose to reach out to its would-be new recruits in a much more cunning and indirect way: by making a smash hit dance record.  Before dying, Marulanda set his senior commanders a bizarre task better suited for Simon Cowell than for a brutal guerilla commando like his second in command Mono Jojoy. He ordered Jojoy was to create a dance record so successful and popular it would induce a new generation of young Columbians to join the revolutionary struggle. Jojoy and Felipe Rincon, another senior commander, were so enthusiastic about the idea the Rincon chirped in an email “We have to get the guy who makes merengues and we have to offer him a big budget!”

Thus, Guerilla Dance was born, a slickly-packaged and highly-produced dance record complete with lyrics and publicity shots. It wasn’t a cheap birth, though. The FARC reportedly spent $150,000 U.S. on production as well as importing professional musicians from the Dominican Republic.  The finished product was posted on YouTube. The lyrics mix pure revolutionary rhetoric with beats to make you bump and grind. “Taca taca taca, the government will fall,” “carry the grenades and the rifles,” “enemy to the left, enemy to the right,” similar to the traditional merengue instructions to always “move those hips!” Sadly for Marulanda, not only did he die before seeing his dancefloor dreams become a reality, the song did not smash the charts, and only attracted attention as a strange changeup from the FARC’s usual maudlin ballads with little production value.

This odd tale of a Marxist/Merengue mashup reinforces how clearly new media and Pop Culture are wedded to things once considered to be only political. Revolutionaries and insurgents alike are keenly aware of the political and military uses of music, film, video, dance, and gaming.  Many terrorist organizations have theme songs to rally their adherents, but it will be interesting to see whether Hizbullah, given Beirut’s vibrant club scene, will pick up the gauntlet thrown down by the FARC and come out with a song as catchy and well produced.

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