Week 4

This week’s reading from Morozov greatly contrasted Shirky’s Chapter 7 in that Shirky discusses the benefits of social media in attracting and affecting crowds actions and beliefs towards events and causes and Morozov discusses the reality of media in authoritarian governments –citizens often favor the entertainment value over the rebellion potential of foreign media. Morozov highlights media’s “complex and ambiguous” role in authoritarian governments. Most governments do not censor foreign media because it’s simply easier to allow young people to enjoy entertainment than risk their involvement in internal politics. Often, foreign news programs, such as West German news in the former East Germany were considered a farce, as the East Germans knew their own government’s news to be. Some modern authoritarian governments allow the use of pornography to actively distract their own citizens – thus using the internet and perceived media freedom as a mechanism for control of their citizens.

Shirky, however, points out the dramatic effects social media can have on societies in a positive way. Media can foster knowledge and group empowerment, spreading knowledge and campaigns at unprecedented rates. He mentions the East German city of Leipzig’s protests in 1989 that were organized similarly to today’s flash mobs. Social media is shown to be empowering and able to draw attention to complaints.

Both Shirky and Morozov note how social media can foster a culture of complaints and discovering problems within a society. In authoritarian governments, such as China, citizens are invited to write on the Chairman’s blog in order to expose corruption in their local government –while making a great public relations opportunity for the national government. Shirky points out the use of social media on an individual level leading to corporations paying for the problems they cause well connected citizens; such as a plane full of individuals trapped on the tarmac. Yet Morozov notes few cases of open rebellion in societies extremely repressed, in comparison to many Western democracies.  Citizens seem happy to watch American television, but uninterested in adopting American democracy. Shirky finds a Western society highly motivated to use social media to seek justice and fairness for themselves. How, then, could the media American media create opportunities or inspiration for citizens in authoritarian nations to rid themselves and their society of repression?

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