Social Media and News; Who Has Control?

In The Role of Digital Media, the story of political change with regards to the emergence of social media is told in terms of the globalization of news. While before digital technology it was difficult and costly to transmit important information, the creation of Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets have changed the way and rate at which we receive our news. One of the most consistent narratives from Arabic civil society leaders has been the Internet. The leaders use these technologies and allow people interested in democracy to build extensive networks to share their stories. Ultimately, these people can organize political action with speed and fluency, and their virtual efforts and values were able to be tangibly organized on the street level. All of this contributes to a more open dialogue of discussion regarding political action and the voice of citizens.

This, of course, is the liberal side of the argument. There are controls set in place, which allow regimes to crack down on Facebook and similar applications. While they do their best to control the online sphere, we have learned that it is virtually impossible to block all sites and most Internet savvy users will find a way to get their voice heard and find users with similar interests and goals. Zeynep Tufekci & Christopher Wilson studied social media in general, particularly Facebook, and the ways that these new outlets provide untapped sources of information that the regimes cannot easily control, and thus these pieces of information are crucial in shaping how citizens would make individual decisions about engaging in political action. So while the regimes can try to hinder the progress of these activist groups, through personal contact via face-to-face interaction, phone calls, and with the help of Facebook and other social media sites, it is clear that the power of the people will eventually prevail over the control of the regime. 

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

2 Responses to Social Media and News; Who Has Control?

  1. arlaurin says:

    I agree with you that the people can easily go around the governments attempt to suppress. As we saw in the Tufekci and Wilson study, the protestors were able to use a variety of ways to connect (mostly face-to-face then Facebook). It would be hard for a government to stop every way of people connecting. The Internet may be very difficult to stop, but I really think face-to-face would be hard to stop. They can block an area off to that people want to gather, but unless that they literally lock everyone in their house, people have the ability to meet up somewhere else and discuss. Phone calls may be able to be stopped by cutting off service (if the government can do that), but physically restraining everyone would be difficult.

  2. I think it is broad to make the claim that the power of the people will eventually prevail over the control of the regime. There have been many instances, with and without social media, where revolutions have failed. I think a stronger argument would be that social media tools, as new sources that the regimes have a more difficult time controlling, are a way to help aid groups trying to overthrow the regime. As I stated, I think it is too bold to claim that they allow the power of the people to prevail over the regime as it is also clear that governments are finding ways to suppress activist activity on these sites. I do also agree with the response above that challenges the way in which a government can stop face-to-face interaction. While a government may be able to stop face-to-face interaction with violence I do not think there is a nonviolent method for a regime to do this and that a government shutting down an internet is both more peaceful and easier to do.

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