As the protests in Kiev, Ukraine that started in Independence Square enter their third week, it is clear to the world that they are ceasing to be a local political dissension and are becoming a revolution. The popular world news outlets are reporting things as they happen, but it is social networking that seems to be providing the scoop in real time.
Facebook in particular is sustaining and supporting the Euromaidan revolution, and that may just change the way news is reported forever.
The situation in Ukraine-resembling the 2004 Orange Revolution in some ways-started as a peaceful protest. Criticism of the Ukrainian Government’s trade negotiations soon became the November 30th police response which was shown to be hard-lined and violent by thousands of posts on Facebook and Twitter.
That information is able to circulate so rapidly and to such a wide audience because of the proliferation of internet access. User’s interconnectedness via popular services such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are guaranteeing that the sights and sounds of the Euromaidan protests are getting out.
The people’s dissatisfaction with President Yanukovych’s decision to turn trade talks toward a broad-based free trade agreement with the European Union and away from nearby Russia garnered quick and heavy-handed response from the seated government.
Then the numbers of protesters grew exponentially, seemingly overnight; but how did the word get out so rapidly?
Facebook is especially playing a major role in keeping the social networking community informed.
Word of the police violence was broadcast almost instantly. The community responded, and crowd sourcing of medical aid appeared, coordinated, organized, and ready to render aid, via the newly established Facebook Організація волонтерів-медиків [Organization of Volunteer Doctors].
Another Facebook page, The Revolution’s Legal Department, has been established to provide legal aid and counsel for individuals that require representation for injury or incarceration. Soon after the page’s launch, a similar website—Eurozahyst.org—was setup for the same purpose.
How is all of this being organized? Where does an initially small popular organization of protests begin to manage itself so that it can continue to perpetuate its message as the number of protesters approach 1,000,000?
The Euromaidan Facebook page, Euromaidan SOS, called for emergency aid as soon as protesters began to tweet and post the happenings on social media. Posts on the page are forwarding information to protesters in real-time, with suggestions to keep the protesters safe.
The site also collects reports of beatings, arrests, detentions, missing persons, and individuals in need of professional counsel.
The page’s popularity spawned several clone-protests, also organized and supported by Facebook posts. Euromaidan Cleveland, Euromaidan Milano, Euromaidan Tbilisi, Euromaidan Leipzig, Euromaidan In Prague. All of these spawned by the outrage at how the Ukrainian Government is dealing with the protests.
Bottlenose is making sure that what you’re reading about in the Ukraine is trending, hot, and up-to-the-moment.
Bottlenose.com is a clearing house for Twitter posts. Any user who logs in is able to type keywords into the search box and have the service cull the most popular tweets, news article links, and user comments from around the web. Delivered neatly in a column of the top posts by users, the site updates listings by the minute.
If it is being tweeted, it’s in Bottlenose.
YouTube, via cellular videos, amateur news outlets, and major media sources is making sure that the sights and sounds of the Ukrainian protests are making out of the country. The world is watching as the government is responding, trying to maintain their legitimacy in the face of unexpected numbers of protesters, and how they are dealing with the protesters themselves. A very critical international eye is watching with interest.
Social media is also allowing for unprecedented marketing by protesters. It is no longer the arena of government agencies alone to broadcast the events, possibly exercising image-management techniques to assure that good news gets out and bad news does not.
The message of legitimacy and peaceful protests was circulated online for the world to see.
It was becoming difficult for the Ukrainian public relations machine to convince the world that force was necessary because of violent protests.
That is not to say there weren’t exceptions.
Riots broke out on December 1st as the Kiev District Administrative Court banned further protests.
Protesters defied the ban and a march from St. Michael’s square took place. Windows in official buildings were broken, a bulldozer was commandeered by civilians—it was used in an attempt to pull down the fences around the Presidential Administration Building—and rioters threw rocks and debris.
At least five riot police personnel were injured in the exchanges.
Then, social media took action again, urging the protesters to re-establish peaceful protests and occupation of government sites. Protests have remained largely non-violent since December 2.
Solidarity via Social Media
The question is circulating in the minds of people who are watching the events unfold via social media:
Would this story-as it is at this moment-have gotten out without the help of Facebook and Twitter? Would the level of organization required to maintain long-term protests have coalesced if it wasn’t for the influence of crowd sourcing via social networking and news?
Ten years ago the answer might have been an unequivocal “no,” but we are in a new age.
Technology is king and, at least for this movement, the cornerstone of the protests in Kiev, Ukraine. Command centers, tent-camps, food and aid stations, medical service centers, and the various other services that formed in response to the needs of the protesters all came in response to the call of social media.
Individual engagement and the virility of social media has guaranteed that, at least for now, the Euromaidan protests are seen by the world. The probability of continued government violence seems reduced, and the likelihood of a dialogue between the government and these Ukrainian protesters seems high.
All the while, watching the protests in Kiev change from band of sign-wielding individuals into a wave of national sentiment, we can say we watched it because of a news revolution supported by social networking.
By: Matt Darjany