Posts Tagged ‘protest’

ARIN6903: Internet activism – Facebook group reclassifies Tony Blair’s memoirs in bookstores

September 5, 2010

Last semester I wrote about Internet protest for the Internet Cultures and Governance class:original post here.

One of the criticisms raised about Facebook being used to organise groups was that it is often used for the most inane types of “support movements” and “protests” – eg. “Can this sausage roll get more fans than Cheryl Cole?”

I was interested to read this morning The Guardian reporting that in the UK, members of a 5000-strong Facebook group are encouraging people to go into their local bookstores and “reclassify” Tony Blair’s new autobiography by moving it from its assigned section to another section, for example to the crime section. The idea is to conduct a legal, subversive protest to get people thinking about Tony Blair’s alleged war crime: the war on Iraq.

Clearly, it’s not enough to simply set up a Facebook group to make an impact, the subject of the protest needs to be something that is genuinely in the interests of society and the tactics used need to be original, rather than simply setting up the group and making a few announcements. In the UK, Tony Blair is an incredibly divisive figure, attracting derision for involving the UK in the Iraq war on what appears to be flimsy reasoning. Moving his autobiography to the crime section keeps this controversy in the headlines, makes people think about how an event (the war) is perceived as legal or illegal and takes some of the gloss from Blair’s book launch.



ARIN6902: Why is cultural protest important?

May 24, 2010

I wanted to wrap up this blog by writing a reflective post on why I believe cultural protest matters. Some factors came up more often than others and many are intertwined.

Sure, there are plenty of examples out there of lightweight and downright ridiculous cultural protests, but there are also many more that are representative of something more meaningful and get to the heart of what it is to be human and what it is to be part of a society.

Identity formation and maintenance

Culture and cultural artefacts have a strong role in the formation of both individual and societal identities. The production of and our relation to cultural artefacts is one aspect of identity formation. Other factors may be things such as genetics, experiences and environment.

In a historical context, it is often the culture of a civilisation which provides most insights to historians about how it operated and how its members lived their lives.

As John Cusack’s character in the film High Fidelity says “what really matters is what you like, not what you are like…Books records, films – these things matter. Call me shallow, but it’s the f***ing truth.”

Protection of cultural artefacts

People may be driven to protest over a shared love of a cultural artefact that has played a significant role in their own lives. The Save BBC6 Music campaign is a prime example of that.

Economic reasons

During my research for the Save BBC6Music campaign, I often came across editorials and blogs where the argument revolved around the fact that UK residents pay an annual licence fee to pay for BBC services. Their belief is that they are paying for a service and perhaps this is the only BBC service they use personally – hence the BBC has an obligation to foster a broad range of content.

Passion for culture and a belief in its importance

Depending on the individual, some people are simply culture junkies and defenders of the arts. When a cultural artefact or practice is either directly or indirectly threatened (directly could be due to budget cuts, indirectly may be due to declining interest), those who believe in its importance enough are compelled to act.

Offense of beliefs

This factor is quite a common one when it comes to cultural protest, from the Racebending movement, which revolves around race discrimination, to the recent banning of Facebook in Pakistan over a competition to draw cartoons of Mohammed.

Desire for greater meaning

Fans of the Harry Potter book and film series loved its characters and messages so much that they formed the Harry Potter Alliance, an example of fan activism that works at “creating the blueprint for a new kind of civic engagement that combines pop culture, social change, and new media that amplifies each voice hundreds of thousands of times.”

Desire for involvement

Again, depending on personality type, some people may not feel comfortable or interested in political participation or forms of civic participation other than cultural protest. Culture is what matters to them and it is how they actively feel part of society. They may feel their influence can be felt in a cultural movement rather than a political one.

ARIN6902: More support rolls in for 6Music

May 23, 2010

Since my last post, the second public protest to save 6Music took place in Central London yesterday, and was reported on Twitter, Facebook, and by The Independent.

Hundreds attended from all over the UK and were treated to performances by The Magic Numbers and other bands. Again, many of the station’s identities took to the stage to give heartfelt speeches. Presenters from The Asian Network, another BBC radio station threatened with closure as part of the review, also took to the stage to remind the BBC Trust that the BBC exists to serve all communities.

BBC6Music protest 22 May

BBC6 Music protest, 22 May.


Additionally, economist Will Page at PRS for Music has found that 6Music played three times as many unique songs compared to the average for UK radio, and also paid four times as many individual songwriters.

The research also found there were a total of 750 songwriters paid by6Music for radio royalties that were not paid by any other station.

“From a songwriter’s perspective, it is important to note that 6Music is currently the difference between nothing and something for many of them,” notes Page.

So, definitive economic proof that BBC6 Music is more supportive of a wider group of musicians than other stations.


PRS report:

Information on the 22 May protest:

ARIN6902: BBC6 Music – the campaign to save a digital-only radio station

May 17, 2010

I may be biased (just a touch) but I really don’t think there are many things in this world that get people either all misty eyed, worked up in a lather, crazy-eyed like a bull or just plain opinionated as popular music.  You say you like Radiohead and I end the friendship there and then. Many a love story is told with the backdrop of a music festival or sweaty gig, lovers without a care in the world or even a care about the long toilet queue.

I am a music tragic. Plain and simple. There’s nothing in life I love more than listening to music, either at home on the stereo, crammed like a sardine on the train with my trusty mp3 player or standing for hours on end trying to see past the back of people’s heads to enjoy a show (it’s fun being a shortie).

When I lived in London I fell in deep love with a digital music station that some cool guy at work used to play on the work stereo. BBC6 Music is one of the defining memories of the time I lived in London back in 2007/8 and I have brought that love back here to Oz with me. A few of my close friends (also music tragics…there is a theme to my friendships) are also avid 6Music fans. We are very privileged to stream it online for no cost apart from a small portion of our ISP bills. Hearing the voices of the DJs I used to listen to and the theme music for the News brings all those London moments back, most oddly I remember the time getting ready for work in the morning listening to the radio eating breakfast.

So when I heard that the BBC Trust had conducted a review with a recommendation to close 6Music at the end of 2011, I was pretty devastated to say the least. That may sound dire, but I’m not a TV junkie, I’m not a nightclubber. 6Music is probably my biggest cultural investment. I’m just someone that loves listening to DJs who are passionate and knowledgeable about the world of music. 6Music is admired for the sheer breadth of music played on the station – specialist shows and small up and coming bands are nurtured and the playlist is suitably eclectic. It’s also home to some iconic broadcasters including Steve Lamacq and has given a home to a multitude of iconic English music stars including former Pulp frontman and raconteur, Jarvis Cocker and Welsh lass Cerys Matthews, formerly of Catatonia.

Launched in March 2002 and available only as a digital channel, BBC6 Music aims to appeal to music fans by focusing on acts “outside the mainstream”. It also features archive recordings of tracks and the famous “Peel Sessions” recorded by legendary radio DJ John Peel from the late 60s onwards.

Background of the review and the consultation process

The proposal to axe BBC6Music was confirmed on 2nd March after a wide-ranging BBC strategy review  by the BBC Trust that also recommended the pruning of half of the BBC’s website pages, cutting 20% spend on foreign-made shows and selling off particular BBC magazines. The aim of these changes is to save £600 million which can then be reinvested in content.

As the BBC is funded by an annual tv licence fee paid by the public, a public consultation is required before a final decision can be made. Submissions close on 25 May and are collected by the BBC Trust.

The reasons put forward by the BBC management to axe 6Music are mainly that it costs too much money to run when viewed in light of its ratings and level of awareness of its existence and that its DJs don’t have credibility as much experts. This last point is just a little ridiculous given that most of the DJs on the station have a long history of either broadcasting or creating music themselves.

Too many protest singers, not enough protest songs?

As may be expected for fans of an eclectic music station, the forms of protest that have emerged have been passionate, widespread and original. From the expected (a Facebook group with 90,000 members, Twits using Save BBC6Music “twibbons” as their profile pictures, 25,000 signatures on an online petition) to the more unique: songwriter Dan Bull posted a protest song on YouTube: Dear Auntie (An Open Letter to the BBC)

Cerys Matthews' Twibbon

Cerys Matthews' Twibbon

Tweet to the beat

On the day the proposal to axe BBC6 Music was made public, #savebbc6music and #save6music became trending topics on Twitter on and off for the week thereafter.  Campaigners are still using these as the main hashtags for the campaign.

Dedicated sites

A multitude of dedicated protest sites with information have also been set up and lead graphic

Lead site graphic from

The British Phonographic Industry which represents companies involved in the industry has also set up its own protest website:

Back in the real world…

Of course, this protest isn’t confined to the Interwebs – the first physical protest event was on Saturday 27 March at BBC Broadcasting House in Central London attended by up to 2000 people. The second protest is scheduled for Saturday 22 May and follows the huge increase in ratings and a double win at the Sony Radio awards. It will be the final public protest before the public consultation ends on 25 May.

Images of the protest

BBC6 Demonstration

A view of the demonstration looking south from BBC Broadcasting House


BBC6 demonstration

A 6 Music fan sports a T-shirt protesting against BBC budget cuts

Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA

Radio hijacking?

In March, a 3 minute segment of a song playing on BBC6 and the 6Music ident somehow intruded on a Radio 4 news broadcast. The song? Punk anthem “Teenage Kicks” by the undertones. Twitter immediately was awash with speculation as to how this happened, with suggestions that it may have been the work of frustrated BBC6 Music employees. The Beeb’s official response was that it was the result of a technical glitch – someone pressing the wrong button. Whatever the case, it has certainly added to the mythology and publicity surrounding the campaign to save 6Music.

It’s not yet known how many people have responded officially via the public consultation survey, this information will not be released until after the review by the BBC Trust is complete. Campaigners have made Freedom of Information requests which have so far been rejected.

Meanwhile, campaigners are also being encouraged to use the Write to Them website to contact their MPs, urging them to sign an Early Day Motion (the parliamentary version of a Facebook group) in support of 6 Music. The motion, EDM963, was started by Labour MP and active Twitterer Tom Watson.

Campaigners have also been encouraged to post comments on the blogs of the BBC management personnel involved with the review.

Notable support

Iconic former Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker (famous for his own stage invasion protest against Michael Jackson at the 1996 Brit Awards), now a 6 Music DJ, used his win for “Rising Star” at the recent  Sony Radio awards to make a strong statement of support for the station, saying:

“If 6 Music goes the commercial sector is not going to take up the slack. Advertisers do not want to reach alternative types who wear second-hand clothes and grow their own potatoes.”

The site set up by the British Phonographic Society (BPI)  features support from The Cure, Coldplay, Duran Duran and countless other musicians. Here are some key quotes from musicians showing their support:

6Music is simply the station of choice for the true music fan. Where else could you listen to Iggy back to back with Sigur Ros, MGMT and Led Zep? If the BBC axes 6Music it would be one of the biggest broadcasting injustices ever. Dave Gahan (Depeche Mode)


KEEP RADIO 6 ALIVE! Robert Smith (The Cure)

In a boost to the protest movement, heavy hitters from the UK’s biggest record labels also held a meeting on the 14th April with the BBC Trust as part of their BPI membership., presenting their views and those of the 6Music listenership.

Lily Allen has even got in on the act, writing an editorial piece for The Guardian newspaper.

Most of the station’s DJs have also taken to the airwaves, Twitter or their blogs to air their frustration and opposition to the closure.

Broadcasting union Bectu and the National Union of Journalists have also lent their weight to the campaign, saying that 600 jobs could be lost across the BBC.

Rumours and Conjecture

As with any proposal that generates a large amount of media coverage, there are plenty of rumours out there about just what will happen. One of the rumours was that BBC6Music may be closed and somehow resurrected in a limited form as part of BBC2 Radio Extra. This rumour has been shot down by BBC Management though.

Another rumour widely reported was that Absolute Radio, the station previously known as Virgin Radio, may bid to buy 6 Music from the BBC to save it from being axed. COO Clive Dickens: “We would buy 6 Music from the BBC, both the brand and the network, and we’d run it more efficiently than they’ve been doing.”

Recent Developments

The campaign has received a few well-timed boosts in recent weeks. As I already mentioned, DJ Jarvis Cocker recently won a prestigious Sony Radio award, as did duo Adam and Joe.

The station has also seen a huge rise in its ratings, with an average weekly reach of 1.02 million listeners in the first three months of this year, up from 695,000 in the final three months of last year (stats: Rajar). This is a rise of almost 50%. Campaigners took to Twitter to congratulate the station.

Twitter support

Supporters take to Twitter

According to a commenter (CliveBen) on The Guardian website:

“6 Music listeners last week presented their case to Sir Michael Lyons, Chairman of the BBC Trust. According to reports of the meeting, the views of the listeners were favourably received. Evidence of the economic, educational and cultural impact of the station was presented along with the human and personal aspects that brought listeners to the station.

This, combined with the record listening figures for the first quarter of this year, must surely persuade the BBC that the proposal to close the station is completely absurd. Hopefully they will have the good sense to revisit the proposals in their ill-judged Strategy Review sooner rather than later.”


Where to from here?

A second day of protest is set for Saturday 22 May in Central London.  With the public consultation closing on 25 May, campaigners will be hoping to add a last ditch flurry of publicity  to their cause.

It will be fascinating to  see the impact of this internet-driven protest. Will the BBC Trust listen to the official and unofficial responses to the review? Only time will tell.

ARIN6902: Fan Activism – It’s much more than you might think

May 3, 2010

Fan activism is one of the areas I have chosen to write about in my quest to put the magnifying glass over cultural protest for this blog.

If someone said to you “what is fan activism?”, what thoughts would jump into your mind? Would you think of hordes of Friends fans bombarding producers with requests for a particular storyline or for the rebirth of a character killed off? Would you think of Justin Beiber fans threatening a riot at the Channel 7 Sunrise studios? Or would you think of the possibility that long-held taboos, race discrimination and governmental oppression could be challenged in a unique and creative way? Well, you’d be right on all counts.

The most prominent scholar of fan activism is Henry Jenkins who actually coined the term to define purely cultural protests. Henry identifies a notable shift that has occurred alongside the emergence of fan activism: a change in the position of both cultural consumers from passive to active whereby many of the producers of content are the audience or consumer. [i]

Fan activism has quite a curious history and spans all forms of culture. In a detailed journal article on this very topic as it relates to the Internet, Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport outline the history of fan activism from 1960s protests by Star Trek and soap opera fans and note that as a social movement, it didn’t catch the attention of social movement scholars.[ii] In more recent times, an examination of the petitions on has found that the vast majority are in relation to entertainment products. [iii] Earl and Kimport note that most scholars identify a dramatic rise in fan activism in the Internet age, though there is no direct causal link identified to explain why this might be.

As an area of study, Jenkins continues his work today and has set up a team at MIT and USC universities in the United States to focus on the continuum from participatory cultures (including fan cultures) to public participation in civic and political activities.

With this in mind, let’s have a look at some of the more interesting forms of fan activism and how they work to make serious social change.

The Harry Potter Alliance

Perhaps one of the most astounding and unique examples of fan activism is the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA), dubbed “Dumbledore’s Army for the real world”, drawing on story arcs and themes from the Harry Potter series and consisting of over 30 different chapters in the US. They aim to make global change by “creating the blueprint for a new kind of civic engagement that combines pop culture, social change, and new media that amplifies each voice hundreds of thousands of times.” [iv]

Some examples of notable actions and stances of the HPA include action against genocide or repressive regimes (raising funds and organising an online petition protesting the war in Darfur, producing a podcast viewed 120,000 times), poverty (donating 14,000 books to a village in Rwanda) and equal rights (helping MASS EQUALITY to contact Maine voters to protect marriage equality).

The HPA effectively uses Twitter, Facebook groups, a dedicated Ning site, a “Common Room” (a fan forum with the tagline “A Place for Wizard Activists”) and works directly with many NGO partners around the world.  Rather than simply focussing on the actual creative product itself (ie. the Harry Potter series of books and films) the HPA are extending the concept of fan activism, out of the realms of a fantasy series into hard reality.

Interviewed for Time magazine, JK Rowling, the creator of the Harry Potter series, had this to say about the HPA: “It’s incredible, it’s humbling, and it’s uplifting to see people going out there and doing that in the name of your character. What did my books preach against throughout? Bigotry, violence, struggles for power, no matter what. All of these things are happening in Darfur. So they really couldn’t have chosen a better cause.”[v]


Racebending: Challenging racial discrimination in film casting

Racebending started out as the “Aang Ain’t White” movement in response to the casting of Caucasian actors to play the four main Asian characters in a film adaptation of Nickelodeon cartoon Avatar the Last Airbender.

Fans have said that the original show, based on thorough research by the producers into East Asian, Japanese and Chinese cultures, allowed them to explore their own cultural identities with the interplay between fantasy and reality. When Paramount Pictures decided to cast Caucasian actors in these roles, the movement was formed by some of these fans.

The activists started by using LiveJournal as an online hub and then set up a sister Facebook group. Two of the activists, Loraine Sammy and Marissa Minna Lee, then broadened “Aang Ain’t White” into the broader Racebending movement.

Racebending as a movement is considered a creative source. Members have produced over 130 videos posted on YouTube (including response videos to other members), have developed a sketchbook with artists contributing for the 2009 San Diego Comic Con, produced a comic and much more.

Similar to the Harry Potter Alliance, the Racebending movement has made strategic alliances with movements that have not emerged from fan activism. The most significant alliance is with Media Action Network for Asian Americans (or MANAA), an activist organization which stands for “balanced, sensitive and positive portrayals of Asian Americans” in American media[vi]. Racebending’s mission is now “We want Paramount Pictures – and all Hollywood studios – to know that supporting and hiring actors of color in prominent roles will help build passionate, devoted audiences. The appeal of Hollywood’s films will expand with greater attention to the face of modern America.”[vii]

Video of fans at Comic Con interviewed about the race furore:

Credit: Racebending


Image of the Racebending Facebook group which was temporarily banned:

Racebender Facebook

Racebender's Facebook page

Credit: Racebending


Heresies Comic

Heresies ComicCredit:


[i] Jenkins, H. (1992). Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge.

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture. New York: NYU Press.

[ii] Earl,J. and Kimport, K. (2009) Movement Societies and Digital Protest: Fan Activism and Other Nonpolitical Protest Online Sociological Theory 27:3 September 2009

[iii] Earl, J. and A. Schussman. (2003). “The New Site of Activism: On-Line Organizations, Movement Entrepreneurs,and the Changing Location of Social Movement Decision-Making.” Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change 24:155–87.





ARIN6902: Just what does the Internet mean for Protest Movements?

March 22, 2010

As I mentioned in my initial post, Protest Movements in relation to the Internet is an incredibly broad topic. So this next post will attempt to give a very broad overview of the topic and provide context for the focus of the blog itself: cultural protest.

Just why is this topic so broad? Firstly, there are considerations of what the Internet comprises (ie. endless websites, apps, RIAs, widgets, feeds, social networks), then you need to analyse definitions of “protest” and activities therein (“hacktivism”, and, Facebook groups, Twitter posts, email campaigns) and lastly, there is a need to take a look at what actual topic or issue is that is being “protested” – democracy in Iran, disliking the fashion sense of a colleague or perhaps a particular musical genre (Norwegian death metal anyone?).

Let’s start off by connecting the dots. The Oxford English dictionary, that  esteemed gatekeeper of knowledge and grammar, defines protest as both a noun and a verb:

noun 1 a statement or action expressing disapproval or objection. 2 an organized public demonstration objecting to an official policy or course of action.

verb 1 express an objection to what someone has said or done. 2 take part in a public protest. 3 state emphatically in response to an accusation or criticism: she protested her innocence.

So, taking the next step, “protest movement” implies a group of participants who are, to varying levels, unified in terms of just what is being protested against. It also suggests organisation, collaboration and action.

Now that we have that clear, we can look at the typical overarching topics that protest movements revolve around…and as can be expected, there are some very thorny topics indeed (not surprisingly, they are the topics your parents and those silly etiquette guides always told you never to discuss at dinner): sexual orientation, politics, religion, sport, culture, war…the list goes on.

And what sort of activities do people who engage in protest movements get up to? Well, they range from the benign to the definitely illegal, the maybe-illegal and the downright ingenious. The activities that get the most attention seem to be the ones that target large, international corporations or government agencies: in 1998, the Pentagon and Mexican government websites were affected by a “virtual sit-in” where hundreds of activists protesting the treatment of natives from an area of Mexico initiated denial of service attacks so that the websites became inaccessible. Other notable events in this vein constitute defacement of a website – unauthorised people gain access to the website and post messages on the homepage to gain attention and notoriety for their cause. More recently and locally, the website for the Melbourne International Film Festival was shut down due to denial of service attacks by Chinese protesters, who were against the inclusion of a prominent filmmaker from the Muslim Uyghur minority and is critical of the Chinese government.

Somewhat more benign and perhaps dumbed-down are the thousands of Facebook groups set up protesting anything from the discontinuation of a chocolate bar to the cancellation of Friends on UK Channel E4. Hadley Freeman at The Guardian picks up on this dumbing down of protest, suggesting that in many cases, it is simply a case of reactionary campaigning, where those that sign up are only doing it for the sake of it.

Let us now take a look at how the Internet has facilitated protest movements. The obvious points are that forms of publication on the Internet act as a mobilising and galvanising force, allowing for movements to organise themselves, spread their beliefs and to be active. The large potential audience of the Internet and its networked nature allow the development of dedicated and determined protest movement members. It also provides protest members with a gathering location that is not physical.