Social Media and the Greek Crisis: Its Impact on the Greek Public Sphere

The movement of the "indignants" in Athens resulted in some of the largest protest gatherings in modern Greek history during the spring and summer of 2011, and was largely organized via Facebook and other social media tools. Photo credit: Michael Nevradakis (6 June 2011).

Michael Nevradakis

When Gil Scott-Heron coined the phrase “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” in 1970, could he have imagined the form such a non-televised “revolution” would take three decades later? Social networking have had a profound impact on the global flow of information, radically altering the nature of time and space, and “revolutionizing” the very idea of revolution. In recent years, social media tools have been credited with helping to inspire or organize political movements in countries and territories as varied as Iran, Thailand, Moldova, Hong Kong, the Ukraine, and Honduras, as well as the “Arab Spring” uprisings of 2011 and the Occupy Wall Street protests throughout the United States which followed.

Western Europe has not been exempt from such movements either. Just a few months after the “Arab Spring” protests, the movement of the “indignants” began in Spain, protesting the dire economic situation in the country and the austerity policies which were being enforced. Soon, these protests spread to Greece, where the “Kinima ton Aganaktismenon,” Greece’s version of the “indignants” movement, began in Athens in late May 2011. In both countries, these protests were largely organized and publicized on Facebook and, to a lesser extent, Twitter.

This, however, was not the first instance in which social media had a profound impact on Greek society and politics. If we include blogs within our definition of “social media,” then we can trace the impact of such tools to at least 2006, when “news blogs” such as Press-GR and Troktiko began to gain popularity in Greece. These sites featured a combination of news, commentary, rumor, and innuendo, as well as breaking stories and revelations of political scandals. Despite the relatively limited level of internet penetration in Greece at the time compared to the standards of Northern Europe, these blogs became extremely popular sources of information that was often seen as being suppressed by the mainstream media. Indeed, by 2010, Troktiko, which was hosted on the blogspot.com platform, was reportedly one of the most-visited blogspot websites worldwide, and was certainly one of the most popular websites in Greece. This success continued until the abrupt murder of Stamatis Giolias by assassins, in an attack outside his home in Athens in July 2010. Though Troktiko, like many other similar blogs, was run anonymously, it soon became known that Giolias had been its founder and chief editor.

It is within this context that social media tools began to play an increasingly prominent role in Greek society. The economic crisis in Greece, starting in 2009, served as an impetus for many Greek citizens to begin to seek out alternative sources of news and information. Over the past two years, my field research in Greece, titled “From the Polis to Facebook: Social Media and the Development of a New Greek Public Sphere,” has closely examined the ways in which social and new media tools have impacted the public sphere in Greece, including the political landscape, journalism, civil society, and grassroots organizing. During this time, I have been able to identify at least six distinct ways in which social media tools have impacted Greek society.

One impact has been in the realm of grassroots and social organization. The most emblematic example are the protests of the “indignants” in the spring and summer of 2011, which began with a Facebook “event” which quickly circulated across the Greek online sphere. Since then, numerous other, albeit smaller, protests and gatherings have been organized, at least in part, with the help of social media, though nothing in recent years has matched the size or intensity of the 2011 protests.

Similarly, social media and new media tools have been used as an effective means of disseminating news, information, and audiovisual material from the ground at many of these protests, which have occasionally turned violent. Twitter, in particular, has become a go-to source for almost instantaneous reports from the heart of such protests, with photos and videos chronicling incidents of police violence, and conflict between protesters and riot police, often with distinct hashtags being created for each protest. Beyond protests, a number of significant news stories and incidents, such as the shutdown of national public broadcaster ERT, the arrest of well-known journalist Kostas Vaxevanis over his publication of the so-called “Lagarde List,” and the controversy surrounding the gold mining activities taking place in the Skouries region of northern Greece, have become known to the Greek populace in large part due to the attention they have received via the social media, as compared to Greek mainstream media, which has paid significantly less attention to these stories.

Wall at the former studios of radiobubble, an online radio station which became prominent for its on-scene tweets and reports from newsworthy events in Athens and throughout Greece, using the #rbnews hashtag. radiobubble has also served as the vehicle for the launch of several civil society initiatives in recent years. Photo credit: Michael Nevradakis (5 December 2012).

Wall at the former studios of radiobubble, an online radio station which became prominent for its on-scene tweets and reports from newsworthy events in Athens and throughout Greece, using the #rbnews hashtag. radiobubble has also served as the vehicle for the launch of several civil society initiatives in recent years. Photo credit: Michael Nevradakis (5 December 2012).

Much of this news and information has originated or been reposted by upstart, independent media outlets which solely operate online and which have heavily integrated social media in their reporting. Outlets such as radiobubble and Omnia TV, among others, have become widely known for providing tweets, photographs, and videos from newsworthy events in Athens and throughout Greece, as have Twitter accounts associated with “citizen journalists” and photographers, such as “dromografos.” Indeed, radiobubble has become widely known for its popular Twitter hashtag, “#rbnews,” which has been used for the reporting of a wide range of news stories, and which was even included in the Twitter feed created by The Guardian for its coverage of the 2012 Greek parliamentary elections. Furthermore, numerous media outlets with an alternative or left-leaning editorial stance, such as Hot Doc and Unfollow magazines, despite a prominent print presence, also heavily utilize social media as part of their operations.

There is also at least one political party in Greece which is widely credited with having been “born” within the social media sphere. The “Anexartitoi Ellines” (Independent Greeks) party was launched in early 2012 by longtime politician Panos Kammenos. Kammenos announced the launch of the party via his personal Facebook account, while the party’s initial platform and manifesto were formulated based on the input of Greek netizens who participated in online polls which the fledgling party had launched via its Facebook account. Within months, this party was able to surpass 10% of the total vote, in its first electoral contest, the May 2012 parliamentary elections.

Civil society organizations have not been exempt from the broader impact of social media tools in Greek society. As the economic, political, and social crisis in Greece deepened, a number of new non-profit, grassroots and citizens’ organizations have been founded throughout Greece, some having initially been established as offshoots of the “indignants” movement in 2011, while others heavily utilized social media tools directly in order to establish themselves and, in turn, recruit volunteers. One such organization for instance, “Boroume” (“We Can”), which aims to combat food waste by connecting restaurants, hotels and other establishments with organizations and communities in need of food, was established, to a significant degree, via Facebook in 2011 and early 2012, and remains particularly active via this platform.

Finally, social media in Greece has increasingly “gone mainstream” in recent years. More and more major media outlets, including television stations, newspapers, and radio stations, have begun to integrate social media tools into their operations, while a number of prominent journalists and media personalities have launched blog-like online news outlets as well, apparently attempting to capitalize on the early popularity that had been enjoyed by the news blogs, and by the increasing usage of the Internet by the Greek populace. One such example is enikos.gr, a blog-like news portal founded by prominent journalist Nikos Hatzinikolaou, featuring a significant social media presence and the integration of web TV and other multimedia platforms.

Despite these significant impacts, however, it is important to temper our enthusiasm when it comes to the real, lasting, tangible impact of such online mediums. The news blog “phenomenon” tapered off within a few years, while the movement of the indignants lasted only approximately two months before it broke apart. Anonymous blogs and news sources are viewed with skepticism by many, and with outright suspicion by mainstream journalists and politicians alike. Even the Anexartitoi Ellines, after their initial burst of popularity, have seen a significant decline in the polls, while seemingly abandoning their interactive relationship with Greek netizens in the process.

Just as in Spain, in the Arab World, and in many other countries which experienced various so-called social media “revolutions,” the Greek experience suggests that social media’s impact on society and the public sphere may be, to a large extent, ephemeral and lacking in staying power. At the same time, however, despite their increasing embrace of social media, mainstream media in Greece continue to suffer from a tremendous and widespread credibility crisis, while press freedoms in Greece have experienced a precipitous and shocking decline in recent years, as indicated by the annual rankings compiled by international watchdog groups such as Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders. Within such a context, and as the political, economic and social crisis continues in Greece, social and new media may yet once again serve as a breeding ground for a new set of initiatives and movements which will directly impact Greek society in the future.

by Michael Nevradakis

Ph.D. Student, Department of Radio-Television-Film, University of Texas at Austin, 2012-13 U.S. Fulbright Scholar, 2013-14 Greek State Scholarships Foundation Scholar.

The movement of the "indignants" in Athens resulted in some of the largest protest gatherings in modern Greek history during the spring and summer of 2011, and was largely organized via Facebook and other social media tools. Photo credit: Michael Nevradakis (6 June 2011).

The movement of the “indignants” in Athens resulted in some of the largest protest gatherings in modern Greek history during the spring and summer of 2011, and was largely organized via Facebook and other social media tools. Photo credit: Michael Nevradakis (6 June 2011).

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