Critically, social media acts as a space to document, display and digitize events that occur in physical locations. Events and images (either single images or videos) posted online consist of a wide variety of activities, which occur in physical space. This can consist of mundane activities, or contrastingly significant events, such as activist demonstrations. Documenting one’s life on social media in this way allows users to construct a specific online identity and presence. Due to this, there is a digital dualism between the ways bodies interact in physical space, are recorded in those spaces, and how that information is posted or shared online. Here, embodiment in the physical, to some extent, determines embodiment and representation on social media.
Taking this into consideration, over the last few days and weeks, videos and images of the protests against austerity in Montreal have been shared online, particularly on social media websites like Facebook. These images and videos of protests and dissent function as a way to gain a first hand perspective of participants and the events that are proceeding in public spaces.
Images taken during recent demonstrations, including the video attached below, are the result of tense conditions around increased financial restrictions and cuts implemented by the Quebec government. This is a circumstance where there is a divide between state institutions and the citizens that are directly affected by financial cuts. Similarly, this divide is shown in how bodies are depicted in these images, particularly within the video below. The police on the right, representational of the systems of power, and the protestors on the left, a depiction of those directly affected by and opposed to these new government mandates. Simply there are two types of bodies in this space; those against the current social systems and the figures who work within them and enforce legislation. However, this is an ironic circumstance because the government cuts also directly affect police offers and their pensions. This has caused many of the Montreal police to strike against the new financial cuts as well. Yet, even though both sides oppose these new austerity measures, they still clash between one another. Significantly, the way individuals side in these debates in physical spaces reflect how they present themselves in virtual spaces also. Here, many Montreal Facebook users are either in support of, against or abstain from these new austerity measures.
Moreover, this act of recording events and violence during protests and posting these images or videos on Facebook, as in the case of the video below, can be viewed as a mode of sousveillance. This is because, power is put back into the hands of minority citizens to record and distribute images to the public through social media platforms. Chiefly, This enables citizens to watch those who work for social institutions, like the police, and show how their actions are harming citizens who have the right to advocate for their causes. Yet, lack of description and information of videos and images can allow for different interpretations and readings to arise. In the case of the video posted below, there is little textual description of the clash between protestors and police. Simply titled ‘Round 2’ the information basically conveys that similar violence has arisen before during these austerity protests. This lack of information could cause viewers to be unsure or confused about the who, what, when, why or how regarding the violent actions in the video.
The power of sousveillance is arguably undercut by posting videos and images of protests on social media websites. This is because these platforms are spaces of surveillance, which continually monitor and record user activity and their content distribution. Despite the feeling of agency to document and represent a first hand experience of being in a protest, content is shared within systems and spaces that continually monitor participant’s actions. As a result, sousveillance occurs within larger structures of surveillance of online space.
Although, it’s interesting to note how images of violence are considered normal or more appropriate content for online spaces, while images depicting the female body are not. Facebook’s banning of photos with exposed nipples presents the understanding that an bare body in a neutral position is more detrimental to the public than a series of bodies violently conflicting with one another.
Questions to consider:
- Do you think actions of sousveillance, like the one mentioned above, can create change despite being within larger structures of surveillance?
- Why do you think images of violence or conflict between bodies are permitted on online spaces more so than images of the female body?