The voice of the people
The power of social media as a communication tool is undeniable – and unstoppable. The likes of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube allow ordinary citizens a voice. They provide a platform for genuine, unedited viewpoints, plus instant access to a worldwide audience. Their appeal is obvious.
Professor of Media and Communication Studies at Loughborough University Liesbet van Zoonen is fascinated by the social media phenomenon, and its reach and relevance. She spoke to Alison Laing about her recent research project which explored religious and political practice on the popular social network, YouTube.
In March 2008, a Dutch parliamentarian called Geert Wilders released a highly controversial 16-minute anti-Islam film. He called it Fitna. Predictably, the video caused total outrage on a global scale. Violent protests, death threats and fierce public debate soon followed. Government spokespeople, political figures, religious leaders and commentators, all queued up to express their views on the furore.
However, mainstream media coverage of the Fitna controversy offered little outlet for ordinary citizens, including Muslims, to contribute to the debate. As a reaction to this, a mass video protest was staged by young people from across the world, determined to have a voice. They would not be ignored, and began uploading their views onto social media websites such as YouTube.
It was these protest videos which provided the research material for Professor van Zoonen and her colleagues Sabina Mihelj and Farida Vis. The £81,000-project was jointly funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of the Religion and Society Programme.