Civil Unrest, Social Media and the Recession: A Heady Cocktail?

I don’t doubt we’re in a recession at this point. How much of one I don’t really think anyone knows in Canada and the USA or Western EU. Economists are entirely contradictory. Scotiabank says we’ll start growing by mid-2009 while TD Bank analysts say we’ll contract well into next year. The Feds say it’ll be short and painful while others say it will be shallow but long.

What we are seeing however, is an impact in marginally and recently developed nations, those on the edges of the EU and Mexico on the border of the USA. Iceland is an oddity in that it has always enjoyed a somewhat upper middle class idyllic existence…but yesterday the population held protests and egged the Prime Ministers car. Relatively new EU members have seen sudden drops in earnings and jobs. Mexico, fortunately, has seen a halt in rising inflation, which may temporarily hold major protests at bay.
A few years ago, the Ukraine Orange Revolution was largely and quickly organized using a Social Media tool – SMS/txt messaging. A year or so later the same started happening in Belarus. This time though, the government reacted swiftly and shut down the mobile networks and nipped it in the bud.
In more democratic nations, such actions by a government would be harder to implement. The broader availability of broadband access and connected homes would still enable civilian organizing of protests.
We’re sharing more now as a society. While this is good, it can also have it’s risks – such as organizing protests that turn violent. If we do go deeper into a financial tail-spin, though I doubt that, we may see protests in North America we haven’t seen for decades.
If we do see protests, I suspect Social Media tools will play a key part in organizing them. They will be a mixture of SMS/txt, mobile apps connecting to microblogs such as Twitter and general blogs. Groups will organize and evolve in a very fluid fashion, and dissolve just as quickly.
Although we’re still some way off from such a reality, it will be a fascinating study in the use of Social Media in terms of group dynamics and how change results from such actions. What do you think?

Alyson Queen, Fusion Halifax

Mike Armstrong,’The Flower Guy’