Week 14 – Cohn/Morozov

For this week, our assigned author’s take a step back and attempt to analyze the role that social media played in the Arab world throughout 2009-2011 and their associated revolutions, along with the role that social media is expected to play in the future and as part of a “technological fix” (Morozov).

Cohn’s article took a different angle than those we have previously read, as her online article from “The Hill” focused on the State Department’s shift to move its resources of social networking accounts (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) rather than have them remain on “America.gov”. This site was initially put on the Web in order to promote Democracy abroad, along with other U.S. policies that other nations could learn from and apply to their region. It was put into place in January 2008, with the intention of starting a “two-way conversation between America and people in other countries”, yet it was found to be not nearly as “proactive” as social media (p. 1-2). These networks will be translated into some of the world’s most popular languages (Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, etc.) and are expected to be successful since they will reach people on platforms that they already access on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis. The government is attempting to jump on board with the ever-growing trend that is social media.

Interestingly, the Arab Spring and its related revolutions are mentioned in Cohn’s piece. It was these events, according to Cohn, that “validated the shift in strategy” for the U.S. State Department (p. 2). It was this section of Cohn’s piece that paralleled some of Morozov’s points in the beginning of Chapter 11 (“The Wicked Fix”). He builds off of Weinberg’s paper and notes that, “technological fixes required no profound changes in human behavior and were thus more reliable…Weinberg was under no illusion that he was eliminating the root causes of the problem” (p. 302). It is interesting to note that while not all of these revolutions were exactly a success, they did have somewhat of an effect if they helped to solidify and validate the role that social media could play with the State Department. As Cohn mentioned, people were already logging on and tapping into their social networks quite frequently; why not put the information where it is most easily accessible then?

The intertwining of these two shifts (towards social media) demonstrates that this element of new media cannot be completely written off as invaluable and non-important (as other authors have argued). While many case studies have demonstrated that social media is not always as cracked up as it is made to be, I find it too extreme to immediately write off what social media can do/is capable of accomplishing. Gladwell did make the point that many revolutions occurred without the telephone, Facebook and other innovations of the sort, yet the context and environment of our current society has changed, and so too have our tools for communicating (such as the spreading of messages via retweets and Facebook status updates).

We have seen many shifts towards the reliance on social networking/new media in order to communicate and spread information about major political events. Do you think it is possible for there to ever be a reversion back to our more “traditional” ways of communicating? Or will our Apps and Twitter accounts forever eliminate what we previously had and used?

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2 Responses to Week 14 – Cohn/Morozov

  1. Nick E. says:

    I think this is a very interesting question as there has certainly been a drastic shift away from the “traditional” communication methods in the past few years. However, I think it is highly likely for a complete reversion or complete elimination of traditional communication tools to occur. Simply put, people have different preferences, and each tool has specific benefits over the others. As we have basically established, Twitter is a great way to disseminate a simple message, but it encourages “slacktivism”. So while Twitter seems to be the “wave of the future,” because of its ability to spread a message so quickly, it isn’t the most effective tool when looking at organization on the ground. Many people recognize this, so Twitter is used in conjunction with other tools in order to maximize the effectiveness of a group of activists. I think the most important aspect of new media technologies is the reduction in coordination costs (as we discussed early in the semester). The Internet allows individuals (i.e. activists) to find others with similar interests, but once this occurs, I think it is most effective to use traditional communication methods in order to get people who are truly dedicated to a cause.

  2. This is a very interesting question that you impose because throughout all the readings we have done thus far in this course, we have seen instances where both traditional communication and social media have been effective and ineffective in major political events. I do not think that there will ever be a complete reversion to traditional ways of communicating, unless the Internet were to shut down, because we have made so many strides on Twitter and other apps, yet I do think that traditional modes of communicating will continue to play a large role in political events for a few more years to go. Since social media tools have been implored. there has been much larger audience paying attention to more diverse events and political uprisings. This is due to the capability of social media outlets to start conversations and bridge the gap between networks. I think that this establishment is way too valuable and do not anticipate it disappearing in the near future.

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