Mediated Communities

Civic Voices, Empowerment and Media Literacy in the Digital Era

by Moses Shumow (Volume editor)
©2015 Textbook XII, 216 Pages


Mediated Communities brings together a diverse, global cohort of academics and professional communicators to assess the current state of democratic mobilizing around the world and the ways in which protest movements are being transformed in the midst of a communication revolution. Contributors draw on a variety of international settings – from Greece to Lebanon, China to Argentina – to demonstrate the ways in which community organizing in the digital age relies increasingly on digital media to communicate, help participants find common ground, and fight for change. Contributors acknowledge the challenges that lie ahead for creating real and lasting democratic change, but at the same time are able to draw attention to the potential that digital media hold for strengthening citizen voices around the globe.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • Advance Praise
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Tables
  • Foreword – Developing Global Perspectives Through Media Literacy and Civic Engagement
  • Part One: Theorizing Mediated Communities
  • Chapter 1 – Conceptualizing Mediated Communities in an Era of Digital Connectivity
  • Chapter 2 – Media Literacy and Mediated Communities: Emerging Perspectives for Digital Culture
  • Part Two: Global Case Studies
  • Chapter 3 – Ticket to Die: The Tragedy at Once Station and the Civic Use of Social Media in Argentina
  • Chapter 4 – Civic Voices in the Digital Era: Opportunities and Challenges in Kenya
  • Chapter 5 – Mediating Palestine
  • Chapter 6 – Reclaiming the Urban Landscape, Rebuilding the Civic Culture: Online Mobilization, Community Building, and Public Space in Athens, Greece
  • Chapter 7 – China: Media Activism in Online Health Communication
  • Part Three: Media Literacy in Activated Communities
  • Chapter 8 – Uneasy Relationships: Journalists, Social Media, and the Implications for News
  • Chapter 9 – From Mediated to Mediator: How Youth Use Digital Media to Open the Public Sphere, Empower Activism and Reclaim Voice
  • Chapter 10 – The Mexican Movement #Yosoy132 as an Example of Prodience’s Public Engagement
  • Chapter 11 – Epilogue: Revolutions and Reality: Community Action in an Era of State Intrusion and Corporatization of Digital Networks
  • Contributors
  • Index


Table 6.1: Profiles of Interviewees

Table 10.1: Definition of Variables and Basic Statistics

Table 10.2: Marginal Effects. Presidential Election, 2012 ← vii | viii → ← viii | ix →

~ Foreword ~


THE IMPETUS for the work found in Mediated Communities: Civic Voices, Empowerment, and Media Literacy in the Digital Age emerges out of a particularly unique academic setting. Every summer since 2007, an international group of students and educators has gathered at the Salzburg Global Seminar,1 housed in the historic Schloss Leopoldskron (known most famously as the setting for The Sound of Music), for the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change.2 Participants come from universities around the world—from China, Lebanon, and the United States, to Argentina, United Kingdom, and Uganda—and include academics, teachers, researchers, and professional communicators, along with a group of more than 70 students ranging from undergraduates to doctoral candidates.

For three weeks, faculty and students work together to grapple with the implications of a set of core questions that guide all the work done at the Academy:

How do news media affect our understanding of our cultures, our politics, and ourselves?

How can we use media to better cover global problems and better report on possible solutions?

How can media literacy make students more engaged citizens?

The answers that Academy participants have come up with have led to the development of media literacy curricula that have been downloaded and used in classrooms around the world; the production of multimedia storytelling that promotes civic engagement through the active consumption and creation of media content; and resulted in a global cohort of graduates all interested in creating global change through critical engagement with the media.

Each Academy has a particular thematic focus and multiple research projects built around these themes have been initiated since the Salzburg Academy was first launched eight years ago. The subjects of inquiry have included the media habits of young people in the Middle East and North Africa, mobile Internet use among global youth, and the media coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In each of the projects, students work closely with faculty ← ix | x → during their time at the Academy to conduct the research. Their efforts have led to the publication of an edited book—News Literacy: Global Perspectives for the Newsroom and Classroom (Paul Mihailidis [ed.], 2012, New York: Peter Lang)—as well as numerous academic journal articles and news stories. The research data and results have also been used in reporting on media literacy in a variety of news outlets.3

During the summer of 2012, the focus of the Academy was on community. Students were asked to consider the meaning of community in their life, and to analyze the role of media and communication in building the ties that connect us to the places we live, the people with whom we interact, and the causes about which we feel passionate. Working with faculty, they turned these stories into lesson plans and multimedia efforts all exploring the ways in which media, and particularly digital and social media, are transforming the ways in which we connect, engage, and mobilize for change in the 21st century.

Prior to the Academy that year, the director, Dr. Paul Mihailidis of Emerson College, had asked if I would be willing to take on editorship of a second book based on the work being done there (News Literacy was the first). I have been on the faculty at the Academy on four separate occasions since 2008 and feel strongly about the work that is done there, so I happily agreed to do so. I wrote up a proposal for Mediated Communities, which was then presented to the rest of the faculty during the second week of the 2012 Academy. Each of the faculty members agreed to contribute a chapter to the book, based on their own work and their experiences at the Academy, and thus Mediated Communities was born.

The preceding description of the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change is meant to offer some context and background as to how and why this book contains the global perspectives that is does. It also helps to explain why, at its core, this is really a book about how media and media literacy can be used to promote and understand social change—a theme that is at the heart of all work done at the Salzburg Academy. The environment in which this work takes place is also essential to understanding the ethos driving this project forward. The Salzburg Global Seminar, which sponsors the Academy, has been in existence since 1947, and was founded with the idea of trying to find ways to engage in constructive and critical dialog following the horrors of world war II. It is this history that continues to drive all of the initiatives at the Seminar, where, nearly seventy years later, the mission continues to be “to challenge current and future leaders to solve issues of global concern.”4 Sitting in the magnificent halls and rooms of the Schloss Leopoldskron, which was occupied by the Nazis during wwII and still bears the bullet holes from that conflict, ← x | xi → surrounded by a history of both global atrocities and the intellectual efforts needed to make sure they never happen again, it is difficult not to feel inspired.

As with any edited volume, this book was very much a group effort. I want to thank all of the contributors whose efforts made this project possible: Cornelia Bogen, May Farah, Megan Fromm, Roman Gerodimos, Manuel Guerrero, Stephen Jukes, Monica Luengas, Paul Mihailidis, Rosemary Nyole-Kowuor, and Christian Schwarz. My particular thanks go to Paul Mihailidis, director of the Academy and a close friend and colleague, for asking me to take on the second book project to emerge out of the Academy. Thanks also to Stephen Salyer, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Salzburg Global Seminar, for his strong institutional support of the Academy; Susan D. Moeller, faculty and co-founder of the Academy; Jochen Fried, the Academy’s second co-founder; and, of course, the many students who have participated in the Academy—your passion and enthusiasm for global change is always inspiring. Mary Savigar, editor at Peter Lang, was a great collaborator and expertly guided me through the publication of my first book. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Robert (Ted) Gutsche, my colleague at Florida International University, for reviewing an initial draft of the Introduction, and two incredibly helpful and hard-working graduate assistants, Laura Winkler and Celeste Matos. And finally, many thanks go to my wife and children for their support, encouragement, and patience as I worked to put this project together.

Moses Shumow, PhD

Assistant Professor

Florida International University, Miami


1 For more information on the Salzburg Global Seminar, see http://www.salzburgglobal.org

2 For more information on the Academy, see http://salzburg.umd.edu

3 For a complete listing of the Academy’s research initiatives, see http://www.salzburg.umd.edu/global-research

4 For more on the background and history of the Salzburg Global Seminar, see http://www.salzburgglobal.org/about-us/mission/our-mission.html ← xi | xii → ← xii | xiii →



← xiii | xiv → ← xiv | 1 →

~ Chapter 1 ~


Moses Shumow


ON JANUARY 10, 2014, over 300,000 residents of West Virginia living near the capital of Charleston woke up to learn that the water coming out of their taps was unsafe for drinking. While the details were still unclear at the time, those living in the affected area eventually learned that thousands of gallons of a toxic chemical used at a local coal processing plant had leaked into the local water supply. The facility where the chemical was stored was directly upstream from the intake pipes for the regional water company. Residents were rightly concerned for their safety, with some reporting chemical burns and others being admitted to local hospitals with a range of complaints, including diarrhea, vomiting, and dizziness. The water ban also impacted local businesses and schools, as bottled water supplies ran low and many were forced to close (Gabriel, 2014; Kloc, 2014).

Adding further misery to the disrupted lives of thousands of West Virginians was the halting, confusing, and contradictory information and edicts coming from the government and those in positions of authority. Just a few days after the water ban was put in place, West Virginia’s governor, Earl Ray Tomblin, working with the Centers for Disease Control, began lifting the ban in phases; then, just two days later, the same authorities announced in a statement that the water should not be ingested by pregnant women. In coming weeks, similarly confusing information would be repeatedly released and retracted. As of the writing of this chapter, nearly three months after the spill, authorities have still refused to say that the water is 100% safe, with Governor Tomblin at one point telling citizens wondering whether or not to drink the water, “It’s your decision” (Roger, 2014).

Complicating the web of (mis)information surrounding one of the worst cases of water contamination in the history of the United States were emerging allegations of irresponsible practices and neglect on the part of Freedom ← 1 | 2 → Industries, the owner of the plant where the chemical spill took place. In the face of mounting lawsuits and clear liability, the company quickly declared bankruptcy and has since shut down completely, but not before serious questions had been raised about the legitimacy of the company, as well as possible lapses in regulatory oversight on the part of the state and federal agencies (Brickley, 2014).

Given the widespread confusion and mounting frustration on the part of citizens in the face of misinformation, it would be hard to blame those affected for feeling particularly helpless to do anything about a situation seemingly out of their hands. Speaking to host Amy Goodman on the television program Democracy Now! on January 14, a few days after the water ban was imposed, community organizer and activist Erin Brockovich (made famous through her portrayal by movie star Julia Roberts in the movie that bore her name) painted a much different picture after a visit to one of the affected communities:

There were people last night in the group that have already started their own Facebook pages…[t]hey’re able to see what’s going on. They can reach out more to their community, even if they’re not in the community right at the moment…[T]hey’re banding together stronger than I’ve ever seen it before…when we have information, that’s empowering to us, because we’re able to better have control over our situation and what happens to us. (Democracy Now!, 2014)

Through her commentary, Brockovich, one of the foremost community organizers in the United States, highlights the ways in which communities are being shaped, activated, and energized in the digital age. At a loss for answers, and given the mismanagement of a dangerous situation on the part of those to whom they would usually look for guidance, West Virginians turned to one another for answers. And they are far from alone in their frustration. The communication networks that have emerged in an age of connectivity, one made possible by the Web and fueled by social media, have allowed citizens around the world to demand answers and agitate for change in ways that are without historical precedent. As protests swept through North Africa and the Middle East in 2011 and 2012, and one dictator after another was forced to step down in the face of massive unrest, protesters successfully leveraged social media to organize, mobilize, and make end runs around authoritarian media systems (Eltantawy & Wiest, 2011; Khondker, 2011). More recently, protesters in Ukraine and Venezuela have used a walkie-talkie phone app developed in Austin, Texas, in order to hide their communication from government surveillance and widespread censorship on larger sites like Facebook and Twitter (Parker, 2014). And these are just two prominent examples; the past decade has seen an explosion of grassroots, popular movements that use ← 2 | 3 → horizontal communication built on peer-to-peer networks to bypass traditional power structures. Around the world, like-minded citizens are increasingly finding transformative ways to mobilize through digital, grassroots communication. In the process, they are restructuring and often redefining citizen engagement and empowerment in new and powerful ways, and all of this is taking place as we move more deeply into what Castells (2010) has called the “network society” (p. 70).


XII, 216
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (February)
revolution change potential Democracy Mobilisation Protest Communication Media
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 216 pp.

Biographical notes

Moses Shumow (Volume editor)

Moses Shumow (PhD, University of Miami) is an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Florida International University. His work has been published in Media Culture and Society, Journalism and Journalism and Mass Communication Educator, among others.


Title: Mediated Communities
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