A High Risk Revolution

Morozov’s article, “Iran: Downside to the Twitter Revolution,” discusses the important activist role Twitter is capable of but addresses the fact that it is only useful under certain circumstances.  He claims that “understanding how the Internet fits a particular political and social environment is one of the most intellectually challenging tasks facing the U.S foreign policy apparatus in the next decade.”  In a way, we (as Westerners) have idealized Twitter as the perfect tool for a revolution: instantly delivering critical yet relatively concise information to the people from the people.  However, Morozov says “to ascribe such great importance to Twitter is to disregard the fact that it is very poorly suited to planning protests in a repressive environment like Iran’s.”  Putting anti-government information up on public sites (even in private messages) puts peoples’ safety in jeopardy.  The Internet strengthens an individuals existing association with a cause by directly tying them to a comment or message, and therefore increases their likelihood of being penalized.  He concludes, “a Twitter revolution is only possible in a regime where the state apparatus is completely ignorant of the Internet and has no virtual presence of its own.”

Morozov points out the difference between people immersed in the revolution and people who want to get involved overseas.  Americans sent tips to Iranians, recommending ways in which they could “clog the Iranian propaganda machine” and get their message across but this ultimately caused the system to stop working altogether.  Instances such as these demonstrate that without the proper planning and previous experience, Twitter can be an ineffective mobilization tool.  Morozov also brings up the notion of slacktivism and whether those who join the group “100 Million Facebook members for Democracy in Iran” actually plan to take action or if the group is “just a gigantic exercise in collective transcontinental wishful thinking?”  Maybe wishful thinking isn’t such a bad thing.  If we aren’t able to be in the country, the least we can do is show our support because no bad can come of it.  Do you believe that using the Internet as a means of activism in a repressive country (like Iran) is more dangerous than participating in traditional street protests, rallies, etc.?  Is the notion of “slacktivism” lessened in these countries because the government is on-watch and therefore, only avid supporters are likely to voice their opinions online? 

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6 Responses to A High Risk Revolution

  1. jlpirr says:

    I agree that Morozov brings up very interesting points about the internet’s effectiveness. I think that in a society such as Iran’s can definitely be more dangerous than protesting on the streets. There are dangers to both activities, but since the Iranian government started tracking tweets to their creator’s, things escalated very quickly. If someone is protesting on the street, there is still a great amount of danger, but they have more opportunity to hide or go unnoticed amongst large crowds. I think, however, that the notion of “slacktivism” in these countries has the potential to increase instead of decrease. The reason that I think this is possible is because slacktivists could get by by just liking a page or sharing something, so they would not necessarily be the ones who the government is tracking. I would assume that people would be more likely to be slacktivists instead of going to the extremes which would then make them more noticeable. Regardless of danger, those who feel the most strongly about the cause will still make themselves known, whether that means organizing online or in the streets, and they will always face a greater danger.

  2. gkornblau says:

    You’re point about American input in the Iranian revolution is interesting. While I’m not sure if participating in a revolution via Twitter is more or less dangerous than doing so by protesting in the streets, I do think that participating in such a movement from overseas is of a much lower risk that doing so from within a nation such as Iran. It is therefore no surprise that Americans and other non-Iranians were so quick to support the Iranians in their attempt at revolution. This seems problematic for two reasons. First, Americans or people from other countries than Iran are simply not as informed about the Iranian socio-political climate. While democratic foreigners may think that they know what’s best in this situation, they often lack perspective, and don’t realize that what would work in a democratic country may not work in a country like Iran. Furthermore, an issue that could have risen from all of the international input, and in many cases slactivism, was that of falsely perceived support. As we saw in Howard Dean’s election, social-media based support can be misguiding because, in many cases, such support doesn’t turn into much more than a Facebook like. Non-Iranians who were tweeting about the revolution didn’t have the resources to actually help the Iranian cause, and thus in putting their faith in tweets and followers, Iranians could have thought that they had much more support than they actually did. As explained by Gladwell, people are more likely to act when their strong ties are also acting. Iranians, therefore, lacked those strong ties, and instead had a series of weak ties, connected through Twitter, across the world.

  3. robausti says:

    Yes, using the Internet as a means of activism in an oppressive country like Iran is most dangerous! As the ‘Twitter Free Iran’ reading stated, disturbingly, social media also became a vector for state repression-and this is what crucially changed the equation. Critically, those who championed the role of Twitter to spur the anti-regime revolt failed to understand-or worse-ignored the possibility that Iran’s ‘violence specialists’ in its security apparatus would use Twitter to identify and hunt down pro-democracy protesters. Unfortunately, Iranian Twitter users did not take counter-deception measures to deal with the Basij violence specialists-who then used Twitter to identify, locate, and often kill Iranian protestors. After all, those who believe that social media can empower ordinary citizens to seize power from repressive tyrannies should consider the fate of Iran’s protestors, some of whom paid for their enthusiastic adoption of Twitter with their lives.

  4. John D'Adamo says:

    I agree that it is very dangerous to use Twitter in oppressive countries like Iran where hunting down those using social media to protest is common practice. As we saw in the video yesterday, the regime even launched an all out campaign for loyalists to tattle on the twitter activists, who were killed either by Basij militia or brutally arrested. Twitter was an interesting medium to help the Green Revolution, but undoubtedly it was the protests on the ground that did both the most good and were the most dangerous.

  5. I do think that Internet activism in repressive countries could be more dangerous than traditional street protests and rallies. Like the Morozov mentions, now information can easily be seen on Facebook that regimes had to torture people to tell in the past. Obviously street protests can get out of control and violent, but protesters in countries with freedom of speech usually aren’t concerned about their anonymity being exposed and getting in trouble for that reason. The Iranian people have to worry about just posting something because their identity could be tracked. Slacktivism does not seem to apply as heavily to these repressive countries as much because the stakes are a lot higher for the individuals who are brave enough to post their opinions on the Internet. In that case, those who voice their opinions are being active in a way that they can with that involves risk. In places like the United States, where we can freely express our opinions online without much worry of consequences, doing the same type of post as an Iranian could probably be seen as slacktivism because almost anyone could do that, including those who don’t care much about a cause.

  6. kcwassman says:

    I agree with Morosov’s points that westerners need to step back and realize that Twitter revolutions may not be as revolutionary as they seem. Two points he made which hit home for me were when he talked about how the tweets were in English and when he said governments used to torture for information on dissidents and now they just go online. I think it is potentially more dangerous to actively protest online in a repressive country because, unlike in a street protest, if you’re beaten and taken away there aren’t witnesses. If you’re dissident online they could act before an event in order to silence you prematurely.

    I also believe that slactivism wouldn’t play as large a role in repressive societies because voicing any anti-government sentiment could get you in trouble. Though many complain about slactivism in the United States, at least we have the option to participate at that minimum level.

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