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TMT protesters took to social media to make their case ― and build support nationally

Day four of the TMT protests.
Day four of the TMT protests.
Updated: Aug. 1, 2019 at 12:29 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Social media has played a crucial role in not only galvanizing support for the Thirty Meter Telescope protest locally, but nationally and internationally, experts say.

Using powerful images and videos and hashtags like #AlohaAina and #WeAreMaunaKea, protesters have been able to get the attention of major media outlets and big-name celebrities.

They’ve also been able to share their message with an immense crowd around the globe.

“This is a movement with extremely powerful visuals and so people are paying attention in a way that they haven’t before,” said Hawaii News Now political analyst Colin Moore said, citing the arrests of kupuna — or Hawaiian elders — shortly after the protest camp was formed at Mauna Kea.

And while supporters of TMT have also been taking to social media, their messages haven’t gotten nearly the same reach.

One of the main supportive Facebook groups, We Support TMT, now has over 1.7 thousand followers. They hope to keep growing the number in the days and weeks ahead.

(We Support TMT Facebook page)

The protest of the $1 billion Thirty Meter Telescope started nearly three weeks ago, when hundreds of activists blocked the only access road to the summit.

Since then, there’s been little movement in the standoff. And earlier this week, the governor withdrew an emergency declaration for the mountain, saying the situation no longer warranted it.

Moore said since the protest began, activists have been able to use social media to broaden their message ― and pick up supporters around the globe. “It’s moved from being an issue that concerned only a small group to one that has national sympathy," he said.

UH-Manoa Communications Professor Wayne Buente said that using social media as a catalyst is an effective move in an “attention economy.”

“When one likes or comments on a post, that pushes the message into more and more follower networks that maybe weren’t so aware of what’s going on,” said Buente, who studies social media.

“Then those people research the topic, get interested in the issue and spread the information to their followers, thus spreading the message. Fast."

That’s why shortly after protesters arrived at Mauna Kea, their hashtags started trending ― and rallies in support started popping up across the country from Alaska to Maine to Oregon.

“Hashtags are good at helping classify and categorize the message in one place,” Buente said. “A lot of voices can then publicly participate in a conversation on a giant network."

We do it for our KEIKI(Children). Our future is our legacy. Eō!!! #alohaaina #kukiaimauna #kapualoha #forthekeiki

Posted by Ikaika Marzo on Thursday, August 1, 2019

Buente said TMT protesters have also been amplify their message on social media thanks to support from high-profile celebrities, including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Jason Momoa. “With celebrities and cultural intermediaries who have lots of followers, getting involved and bringing in their followers and making them aware of the issue ... that’s a really big movement in itself,” Buente said.

The conflict over TMT has also made it onto the national political stage, with presidential hopefuls Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeting their support for protesters.

Sanders, though, subsequently deleted his tweet.

Buente said in his estimation, TMT protesters have upped their game since the opposition began.

“The core movement has always been there, but they’ve learned a lot since 2015 on how to effectively use social media,” Buente said.

“By acting in kapu aloha, the message will survive in our current attention economy where people have so many movement options in front of them.”

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