At the center of this week’s readings is the question of what contribution, if any, technology might offer to the emergence and success of social movements. Can social movements flourish – and flourish to the point of overthrowing authoritarian regimes and upending whole nation states – without the prevalence or at least use of technology like those that enable social media? Or is social media and the communication and coordination it might engender a necessary and sufficient clause.
Gladwell, following up on last week’s (or the week before’s?) on the role of social media in movement, seems to think that social media’s contribution is easily overstated. He poses the question, “Does Egypt Need Social Media?” then responds with a resounding “no.” “People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented,” he writes, pointing to the overthrow of the East German government in 1989. “They did it before the Internet came along.”
While he mentions social media hardly at all, Springborg seems to agree, looking to political circumstances outside of social media as reasons why the Arab Spring happened. The upending of Ben Ali in Tunisia was successful (at least in part) because the military abandoned the leader and Western nations had no stake in sustaining a regime without economic or security implications for them. The dethroning of Mubarak in Egypt, by contrast, invited American and Western encouragement because of the country’s oil holdings, peace with fellow ally Israel, and its suport for the containment of Iran. So here Springborg argues that policy considerations for the West, and particularly for the U.S., determined its involvement in the uprisings and in that way influenced their fate.
Morozov, lastly, also gives short consideration to the idea that technology is the end-all of society’s issues. He argues that the notion of fixing problems with technology is ineffective and ultimately inane. Technology will not bring about the societal changes that citizens seek in revolutions; those changes instead come from real, political changes.
Question: In class we’ve alluded a bit to the difference between the advantages of social media for the protestors’ purposes – organizing and coordinating, for example – and for the outside world’s purposes – for broadcasting images of violence and struggle in the media, for instance. Do you think social media is important for outside observers? And if so, is it more important than it might be for the protestors’ themselves activities?