Wk. 14 – Gladwell, Morozov & Springborg

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?

This entry was posted in Winter 2012. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Wk. 14 – Gladwell, Morozov & Springborg

  1. stephmfarr says:

    I think this post in particular poses an interesting question. While our class readings and discussions have focused mostly on whether social media is necessary for the protestors’ organization and effectiveness in examples of revolutions, there is definitely an argument to be made that social media is perhaps more important for observers. It’s no secret that those on Twitter during the Iranian revolts were looking to gain the attention of the US- and in doing so, perhaps gain a powerful ally. Today, Egyptians “took over” Obama’s Facebook. I wonder if the most important use of social media by activists is not to organize, but to advertise.


  2. ariellme says:

    Foreign support is often considered to be a necessary means to legitimize a revolution. Moreover, this largely occurs as a result of social media networking, which is evident during the Tunisian, Egyptian, and Libyan uprisings. However, this does not automatically mean that social media is more important to outside observers than it is to the protestors within the disorderly states. The protestors’ activities need to occur in order for observers to witness them. Although this has been contested by Haass, Kinsman, and Wilson and Dunn, social media can be a powerful tool in helping to shape and organize the oppositions’ rebellions. Thus, social media is indubitably important for outside observers, but it does not surpass the significance that it has for protestors.

  3. kbking1 says:

    That seems like a really good distinction to make I think that we don’t really see in all of our readings. It goes along with the idea that the internet isn’t good, bad, or neutral because it works in different ways in different contexts. It’s not any one thing. It seems to me that the network format of facebook and to a lesser extent twitter would mean that the organizational capacity would be stronger, but in places with authoritarian governments monitoring online activity, maybe the capacity for gaining outside attention is more important. However, we did see that one statistic that said that most of the tweets about the Arab spring were read by people in countries affected by it. Plus I don’t think people in the U.S. really get their news in that way; people look to the news rather than monitoring situations they don’t really know much about on social media.

  4. smisarah says:

    I think this is a great question, and while I would’ve originally been inclined to think it had more significance for protesters, I think I’m leaning towards its significance for the world. Our recent readings have shown us that while social media might have helped the protest movements, they weren’t the direct impetus for them or the only way for protesters to organize. Most of the most meaningful recruitment efforts for these movements were based on offline connections, which are still more influential than online ones, and most of the basic strategy was developed offline, as well. While social networks helped the protesters spread information quickly, the information would most likely have spread through other networks had social media not been available (like it did during protests in the pre-Internet age). However, I don’t think the events would have gotten as large of an international following if social media hadn’t existed. Sure, it would’ve made the news, but it might not have been as big of a story if Americans weren’t voicing their opinions about the protests on their social media pages or using (English) hashtags affiliated with the movement in their tweets. This amount of interest (in both America and other countries) put more pressure on other governments to get involved or take a stance – so in general, I’d say the role of social media mattered more to observers than to the protesters.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s