Twitter users, likely from outside of China itself, are calling for people to “stroll” in Chinese public areas. The strolling protestors are not to carry signs or yell slogans, but instead to blend in with regular foot traffic. Chinese officials will not be able to identify protestors who themselves can safely blend in anonymity. [Edit for clarity: the idea is that foot traffic will increase in the announced area, but officials won’t know which are the protesters.]
This tactic is reminiscent of those French Situationist strategies of May ’68 to create chaos and disorder (note that strolling is akin to, but not exactly the same as, DeBord’s practice of “the derive“). The calls to “stroll” have had impact in China with the government shutting down public spaces and popular hangouts. Even a busy McDonald’s was closed. These gatherings announced over Twitter have been highly attended by many officials, police and media, but, importantly, not by many protestors themselves.
This is slacktivism at its best. If this slacker activism is often defined by both a grounding in digitality and a lack of real on-the-ground effort, then a Twitter protest-without-protesters is slacktivism par excellence. This latest slacktivist technique has been highly effective at creating a deep psychological worry for a Chinese government unsure where a protest might happen and unable to identify which individuals are actually protesting.
This is one prong of the larger “Jasmine Revolution” hinted at in China, that, like those occurring in the Arab world, are often organized and implemented using social media tools. And, as I previously wrote, these tactics are not “Facebook” or “Twitter Revolutions,” but represent a larger augmented revolution, one that takes into account both how to effectively use digitality (here, the expert use of Twitter) in conjunction with utilizing physical space (the tactic of blending and strolling).
Foucault was right that power is enacted most perfectly when it needs not be enacted at all -e.g., that the power of the panopticon was that the guards need not actually be in the tower (interestingly, Talcott Parsons argued the same, but viewed this as utopian opposed to Foucault’s dystopian take). In this latest Chinese example, resistance to power -protest- is being enacted without being enacted at all. Perhaps the most perfect protest is one that entices fear in a regime without there actually being a protest or protesters in the first place. Or is the non-protest precisely the type officials should fear the least?