Book Review: Digital Activism in Chile

Chile in 2011 witnessed the biggest protests it has seen since its return of democracy in 1990.  Hundreds of thousands of students marched weekly throughout the country, occupying schools and universities and demanding an education reform.

In early 2012 researchers Salvador Millale and Patricio Velasco’s analyzed twenty different Chilean digital activism initiatives. They focused on both the technological features of the web sites or digital platforms as well as the symbolic discourse that activists used to communicate with their publics.  They published their findings in the e-book Activismo Digital en Chile, repetorios de contencion e iniciativas ciudadanas.

They found that that most of the initiatives in Chile were “windows” campaigns that used the internet mostly as an amplifying tool for social movements or organizations that also have real offline interactions.  In these campaigns the political identity is already established and not negotiated online.  Most of the campaigns seek to inform first and recruit others to join the cause later rather than calling for direct action.  Social media is integrated with the same aim. In only a few cases is the digital discourse anchored in marches, demonstrations or other protests. Most of the digital activism in Chile is web-based without generating larger discussions.

Among their twenty cases, they found several initiatives for denouncing the denigration of rights, such us gender violence, government accountability, indigenous rights and the environment. Many initiatives were also concentrated on specific points of the public sphere,  for example the discussion of proposed bills, which challenge the translation to a “common-language.” (http://www.tratojustoparatodos.cl/, http://votainteligente.cl/, http://www.fundacionsol.cl/).

Visual elements were in general weak. Only a few campaigns emphasized the visual over textual content, http://www.plebiscitociudadano.cl/ and http://www.chaopescao.cl/.  While textual emphasis could generate more involvement or responses from public, there was very little interaction,  which confirms the unidirectionality of content. This limited the possibility of articulation or creation of collaborative content among the participants.

Their analysis concluded that Chilean initiatives lack the activism of “empowerment” and, in technological terms, they are deficient. For example,  hacktivism is nonexistent, the same for mobile applications. Internet activism in Chile is limited as a tool of communication with publics and is not a sphere of co-construction of content yet.

An interesting point related to the Chilean cases is the relationship they have with the  education reform movements that have occupied the public agenda.  While some organizations with larger structures (http://www.iguales.cl, http://www.greenpeace.org/chile/es/, http://www.fundacionsol.cl/) were able to use the students and social demands to incorporate their own demands by linking petitions and establishing partnerships with the education movements, other less “structured” organizations maintained their previous demands. It seems that professional organizations were more able to use the momentum created by the context.

Regarding the repertoires and discourses of the education reform movement  itself, these are not different “offline” mobilizations. The internet is just a window to access political identities. There is no development of higher technology tools.  Thus, the internet does not look different from the other public spheres.

The book ends with two interesting discussions by the professors Stéphanie Alenda (University Andres Bello) and Jorge Fábrega (University Adolfo Ibanez), whose chapters deserve additional posts.

You can access the whole book (Spanish) online at

http://www.elquintopoder.cl/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/activismo-digital-en-Chile.pdf

by Salvador Millaleo PhD, University of Chile and University Andres Bello and Patricio Velasco Ms. Sociology, Catholic University of Chile.

Image: very young Chilean education protester  (August, 2011) Flickr/Sebastian Erazo Fischer

Luis Santana
Written by Luis Santana

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