In his article entitled “Political Factors: Digital Activism in Closed and Open Societies,” Tom Glaisyer discusses the role of social media in political and governmental activism. In particular, he touches on the efforts of several regimes and their successes (or more often failures) in controlling social media. He explains that, although many governments have attempted to block text messages, censor online news, and regulate the Internet, they are often unsuccessful. In Iran in 2009, the Persian government was unable to stop protests from spreading through Twitter because of the pervasiveness of digital media networks. This happened despite efforts by Tehran to limit what could be communicated. In Egypt, the state did have some success in identifying and capturing key activists, but was ultimately unsuccessful in controlling the revolution.
The concept that Glaisyer identifies (that social media is almost unstoppable in the transmission of information) is one that Clay Shirkey and Howard Rheingold have somewhat predicted. Although they reach different conclusions, they both expect that the Internet and social media will play an increasing role in politics and government. Shirkey’s ideas on collective action can be seen in these real-life situations. In “Smart Mobs,” Rheingold also conceptualizes the collaboration of many individuals, especially through the use of social media and the Internet, in his definition of “collective intelligence.” However, it can be argued that the protests in Iran and the revolution in Egypt were simply the results of poor government control and censorship rather than collective action. Which do you think is a better explanation for the events in the Middle East?
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