How social media can oppose the government in Poland

When asked what role social media plays in my country, I immediately think of all the protests, strikes, and discussions made possible thanks to these networks. They provide an open platform for exchanging views, which is not always a productive experience, but which certainly can be eye-opening when it comes to studying the behaviors of a society and examining different opinions.

Because social media are available to anyone with internet access, they are an incredibly powerful tool that can be used to unite people across all kinds of geographical barriers. This means that families and friends can stay close even when separated by distance. More importantly, in light of politics, it also means that information can spread within seconds.

Last summer, I was staying far away from not only my country, Poland, but also from any significant urban area. Nevertheless, the news of what was happening at home reached me through social media the very same day that the protests had begun. What were people protesting against? The parliament passed amendments to a bill concerning the judiciary. The new law would give the ruling party the right to elect most of the National Council of Judiciary members as well as dismiss them on-the-spot. The Council itself is the constitutional body responsible for appointing judges. Given that the ruling party holds the majority in the parliament it would be able to fully control the composition of Poland’s highest appellate courts.

Poles were rightfully outraged. But they were not the only ones; major newspapers, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Al Jazeera, reported on the parliament’s actions aimed at restricting the independence of the judiciary. Within hours, the whole country knew what was happening. Not only did the information about the new law spread through all major social networks, it inspired a wave of calls to take action. Again, social media were essential. Thousands upon thousands of people organized protests in their cities. On the same day that the law was passed by the parliament, several dozen towns were dominated by citizens demanding justice on the streets. By the second day, large groups of people opposing the bill gathered in 140 polish cities. By the fifth day, that number rose to 250 cities. Due to this immediate, organized action of the civil society, the president decided not to sign off on the new legislation.

By Paweł Filar – Praca własna, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61552006

Though the government tried to take over the courts, it could not take over the citizens’ freedom of expression. Spreading information and connecting through social media enabled Polish people to oppose the parliament’s view of justice.

by Maria S.