Are non-relational channels of diffusion obsolete in our digital age?

Soule (1997) explores within-movement diffusion of student protest tactics in the 1980’s through the assumption that student activists from different schools do not have direct network ties. The rise of information communication technologies (ICT) has generated digital networks that have been accredited with enabling rapid mobilization (Gerbaudo, 2012). ICTs have enabled citizen journalism to flourish which arguably makes the sharing of physical tactics available to all with access to communication technologies. One such example is of the Zapatistas’ use of global networks to diffuse information about their struggle. However, Earl (2013) makes the important point that, innovations such as protest tactics cannot simply be broadcasted but must also be learned and adopted. This adoption through online networks has led to the use of tradition protest tactics such as petitions to be used by non-political issues. Earl calls this phenomenon “disease jumping” since this epidemiological analogy describes the phenomenon of adoption by unrelated sub-populations. Taken together, there are three general diffusion processes which occur through online networks: 1) Information broadcasting is the most basic and requires no reaction from the observer; 2) the diffusion of innovations; and 3) “disease jumping.”
The #WithSyria campaign contains some examples of all three diffusion processes. #WithSyria was initiated on 14 March 2014 to commemorate the 3rd anniversary of the Syrian War and to call for an end the war. The movement began with a movie and awareness campaign. Days later the movement was launched in 35 countries through local NGOs and led to several well-attended protests in capital cities. Arguably “disease jumping” has also occurred by providing non-activist in the West with an opportunity to openly protest against the Syrian War. The red balloon from the original awareness campaign video has become an icon of the movement. This tactic has been adopted from the gay rights movement and R4BIA campaign. #withSyria

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