Disrupting Austerity on the Greek Twitter – Eugenia Siapera
The rising political importance of Twitter in Greece must be attributed to the combination of three factors: the outright repression and constant policing of political participation in public spaces; the interlinked interests between the government and the media which prevent the latter from offering a political space; and thirdly, the role of these media as propaganda machines for austerity politics. The same people who took to the streets and squares of Athens protesting and demanding a different solution to the crisis, one based on the needs of the society than those of banks, have now taken to Twitter, and in doing so they are inventing/using a new kind of guerrilla politics, primarily based on disruption.
Following the Occupy/Indignados/Aganaktismenoi movements in 2011/2012, and the multiple street protests and occasional riots from 2008 to now, the current coalition government in Greece is not taking any chances: streets, metro stations and squares in Athens are closed off, access is restricted, curfews are implemented, and protests are banned. In the four months since January 2014, the government has prohibited protests, closed off metro stations and flooded the streets with police and riot police (the notorious MAT) no less than four times: (1) on the occasion of taking over the EU presidency on Jan 8th; (2) on the occasion of the visit of the German President Joachim Gauck on March 6th; (3) on the occasion of the annual parade for Greece’s Independence Day on March 25th; and ( 4)on April 1st and 2ndfor the Ecofin meeting. These prohibitions follow off the back of outright police repression when people actually do protest – in one of the more recent occasions, the riot police reached a new low by attacking cleaning ladies who were sacked from the Ministry of Finance. Anti-austerity politics is clearly restricted and repressed in public places.
The media, which could theoretically provide a platform for debate and citizen participation, and which could undertake investigations and offer informed criticisms, are seen by many as part of the problem. One of the main characteristics of the Greek media industry is a high degree of concentration, evidenced in this map. While this is typical of media industries in deregulated environments, the added problem in Greece has been the phenomenon of intertwined interests (‘diaploki’) between media, politicians and private companies. For instance, the Bobolas Group, owners of Pegasos S. A., one of the main media groups in Greece, is also the owner of 5% of the shares of Eldorado Gold, which operates a controversial goldmine in Skouries, Chalkidiki. It really is no surprise to anyone in Greece that trust in media is at an all-time low, with only about 22% trusting TV news and 28% the press (compared to 53% and 43% EU average respectively). Notwithstanding the critiques against the public service broadcaster, ERT, the authoritarian decision of the government to close it down contributed to the dearth of trustworthy media in Greece.
Thirdly, precisely because of the intertwined interests between media and politicians in Greece, they are seen as propaganda machines, often referred to as ‘regime media’ and ‘Troika press offices’ while journalists working there are described as ‘parrots’ and ‘repeaters’ instead of reporters. These media are consistently trying to represent austerity politics as a ‘success story’. In control of both the streets and the media, the government is seeking to pre-empt opposition to its austerity policies.
It is in this context that we can understand the role of Twitter in anti-austerity politics. While Facebook is by far the most popular social medium in Greece, with 3.8 million users, Twitter is increasingly dynamic nearly doubling its users in 2013 to almost 400,000. But more importantly, it is one of the few spaces left in Greece for the conduct of public politics, and especially anti-austerity politics. On Twitter, anti-austerity political tactics are no longer revolving around organizing street protests or seeking to influence public opinion through publicity; rather it aims at disruption. This disruption is three fold: firstly, disrupting politicians on Twitter; secondly, disrupting the various apparatchiks that the government explicitly or implicitly employs; and thirdly, disrupting the mainstream media and their narratives. To illustrate these points with a few examples, a quick look at the replies and mentions to the account of Adonis Georgiadis, the Health Minister, who has the dubious distinction of being the ‘most hated’ politician, suffices: his tweets are almost always picked upon, questioned and often ridiculed. Accounts such as @GeroGriniaris and @SimonKnowz expose the contradictions in the discourses of the various government spokespeople and communicators; they confront and often bait the so-called neoliberal or right-wing trolls and uncover untruths, aggressive propaganda tactics and attacks against critics. But mainstream media are not left out either: for example, the hashtag #skai_xeftiles is used in order to comment upon and ridicule Skai, one of the mainstream media, whose reports are derided and openly disputed. These examples illustrate the ways in which citizens and some journalists on Twitter criticize and disrupt austerity politics, question the ‘success story’ that the government and mainstream media put across and overcome the obstacles to participation in public politics imposed by curfews, police repression and protest bans.
This politics of disruption is in essence a negative kind of politics: it does not articulate a clear set of demands, nor does it formulate an alternative. Its effectiveness in countering actual austerity policies is limited. Yet I want to argue that its existence is important and its tactics valuable for two reasons: firstly, because it displays a fighting spirit, courage and persistence in picking at austerity politicians and their policies; disruption politics is a part of an arsenal of digital guerrilla tactics: ad hoc but continuous attacks by several sources expose the weaknesses and inability of the austerity system to implement a total control. In this respect, secondly, disruption politics creates an opening, enables and encourages others to take part in anti-austerity politics, providing a public outlet for the anger and despair felt by many in Greece and which is prohibited and repressed in the streets and squares. This is by no means the only kind of anti-austerity politics in Greece, as people defy bans and take to the streets, and as a new and radical kind of journalism is on the rise, but it is an important and indispensable tactic in the fight against austerity.
Eugenia Siapera is a member of the Communications Faculty at Dublin City University. Her areas of research interest include: Social Media, Journalism, Political Theory, Multiculturalism, Cultural Diversity and Media. Recent articles have appeared in New Media and Society, European Journal of Cultural Studies, Journal of Ethnic and Racial Studies, Information Polity. Her recently published books include: Cultural Diversity and Global Media: The Mediation of Difference, Wiley, 2010. and Understanding New Media, Sage, 2011.