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Social media as an alternative voice for the social movements: exploring the opportunities and challenges of alternative media in the digital age.

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Social media has evidently revolutionised communication, giving end-users the freedom to produce and consume media products. This has been evident in recent social movements such as the Arab Springs, Occupy Wall Street, and the Fallist movement. Whilst various social movements have embraced social media to communicate their alternative discourses, the extent to which social media serves as an alternative media for social movements is underexplored. This dissertation critically analyses the pitfalls and potentials of social media, such as Twitter and Facebook as alternative media. The theoretical basis of this study is located within the critical theories of the network society, critical political economy, the public sphere, and the post-colonial theory of subaltern. The findings reveal that social movements have adopted social media to communicate their discourses, challenge the dominant narrative, and set the news agenda. Whilst social media is an important medium of communicating their discourses, this study also observed that the discourses of social movements on social media are undermined by low engagement rates, digital divides and rapid commodification of culture. The study also found that social media ownership is ideologically counterposed to social movements that subscribe to subaltern politics. The capitalist owners’ desire to make money has led to re-circulating the ideas that affirm the place of the dominant in society. Social media tend to use algorithms to prioritise entertainment, celebrity lifestyles, conspicuous consumption and in some instances social media can be used to influence the political decisions of the masses. This effectively means that whilst the social movements have done well to create an alternative space for their community, the potential to counterbalance the force of power is still determined by dominant members of society who also set the agenda for inclusion and exclusion. In this case, the study proposes a blended approach in which social movements integrate new and traditional media to tell their stories to the general populace.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.