Social Media Architecture vs. Activists

Change is typically seen as a good thing. It allows us to adapt, as individuals, to new ways of thinking of things or doing things. York and Youmans discuss the ways in which changes in architecture of social media sites, adversely affected activists in the Middle East.  In regards to the Arab Spring, changes on specific developments of social media posed a threat to activists by giving more power to the states. As the communicative structure of social media sites changed, so did the ability of connecting with others. Initially, social media was responsible for breaking silence in the Middle East by exposing corrupt governments. But as architectural changes occurred, the states caught up on social media, using them in a more negative way by spreading pro- government propaganda, side-stepping the intentions of activists. So as the govenrments adapted to the new wave of social media, activist need to adapt or find a way to overcome the continual structural changes of social media.

Activists need to keep in mind that social media is not just a tool for them, but also a platform for politics, commercial use, and individuals. The changes in their websites are meant to enhance the use of technology for all of its users. The fact that this one group of users (activists) are being adversely affected by these changes is very subjective. Rather than be stalled by these changes, activists should find new ways or seek legal doctrines to turn the tables in order for social media to benefit them once again. For example, in the article “State Department shifts digital resources to social media”, Alicia Cohn depicts the ways in which the State Department had to shift to social media and abandon their website America.gov, in order to reach out to the people and be heard. The State Department realized the need to be adaptable to new technology. So if change becomes a barrier to activists in the Middle East, how can they overcome it to make the structural changes of social media beneficial to them? Should they take a legal action? Should they pressure the social media companies? Or should they create their own form of social media? 

 

Cohn, Alicia M. (2011, Apr 4) State Department Shifts Digital Resources to Social Media. The Hill.

Youmans, W. L. and York, J. C. (2012) Social Media and the Activist Toolkit: User Agreements, Corporate Interests, and the Information Infrastructure of Modern Social Movements. Journal of Communication, 62, pp. 315-329.

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Posted in Winter 2012 | 1 Comment

Contradictions in Today’s Social Media Use

In this week’s readings, there seemed to be some important contradictory opinions in terms of the importance of social media. In the Gladwell reading, an important idea is brought up when asking, “Does Egypt Need Twitter?”. When first starting this article, one would assume, “yes, of course!” but after finishing the article, the answer changes. Gladwell reflects on world history and discusses how people were able to overthrow governments and bring about change long before the internet was discovered, which is something that most people today forget (Gladwell). Although Gladwell is showing how the internet is not essential, Cohn shows the opposite by discussing how the United States is turning to social media more than ever before. The way that our society is structured causes us to use social media more than in the past, even when it is not necessary.

Cohn states that the United States archived their site, America.gov, and switched their efforts to social media because that’s where the majority of people are (Cohn). This impact that the United States is assuming social media has on it’s people is similar to the Wilson and Tufekei reading from last week, in which Tahrir Square protests in Egypt were organized. In the case of the Tahrir Square protests, many people learned about the demonstrations through social media, even though activists were punished for what they were doing (Wilson & Tufekei). This awareness still was a motivating factor in the movement and shows just how social media played an important role in the events that transpired. Both the Cohn and Wilson and Tufekei readings some what contradict the Gladwell reading, by showing positive uses of social media in political movements.

The good and bad aspects of social media in today’s society are further highlighted by the Youmans reading, which talks about the four different cases in the Arab Spring. These cases all show how democracy is being limited or prevented by government control of social media and internet use (Youmans). It is important to consider, therefore, just how important social media is. Do you think that today’s political movements would be more effective if there was not internet and people mobilized like they have in the past? Do you think that social media is essential in today’s society due to the amount of people who use and depend on it? Do you think that there is a better alternative?

Posted in Winter 2012 | 3 Comments

A Spring Into Action

The “Arab Spring” has shown how mobilizing new digital technologies and social media sites can be.  “The Role of Digital Media” by Philip N. Howard and Muzammil M. Hussain explains how individuals from North Africa and the Middle East, the Arab world, used digital technologies like the Internet and cell phones to expose corruption and protest their political leaders.  Citizens from these countries started using sites like Facebook and Twitter to bring light to many of the wrongdoings of their leaders and used them to organize groups to meet and protest in the streets.  When the governments tried blocking these sites to avoid the bad publicity, the protesters got creative, where in one example, they used an online dating site to organize supporters and avoid intervention.  The use of social media sites and digital technologies in this situation proved to be successful in actually mobilizing supporters, which goes against Evgeny Morozov’s idea of “slacktivism.”

Morozov thinks that the rise of digital technologies and social media sites have caused our generation to be lazy, supporting causes only online or with a simple click instead of in person actually doing something.  The “Arab Spring” has heavily relied on these new technologies to make a change in their countries.  The countries had rulers of almost 25 and 30 years in the Arab world, and “Each was tossed out of power by a network of activists whose core members were twenty-somethings with little experience in social-movement organizing or open political discourse” (p. 40).  New digital technologies made these social movements possible and easier for these citizens to make a difference.

Do you believe the “Arab Spring” would have been possible without the use of new digital technologies like the Internet and social media sites?  Also, do you think the notion of slacktivism changes in the context of where these technologies are used?

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            While the role of the Internet and social media in the Tahir Square Protests is a subject of controversy, the evidence provided by Tufekci and Wilson (2012) indicates that Egyptian use of social media greatly affected the success of the protests.  Social media was largely responsible for the success of the Tahir Sqaure Protests and thus for the consequent downfall of the Mubarak regime in two ways.  Not only did social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter serve as platforms for informing Egyptian citizens about the protests, but they also made it difficult for the authoritative regime to suppress the dissemination of information regarding the protests: a combination that guaranteed the uprising’s success.

            The presence of social media in Egypt provided citizens with a new channel for receiving news and information and for discussing political events that had never before been topics of discussion across such vast social networks (Tufekci & Wilson, p. 4).  Tufekci and Wilson’s survey results demonstrate that social media use provided Egyptian citizens with the necessary information and social support needed to push them to participate in the political protests at Tahir Square (2012, p. 14).  The use of social media led to increased citizen participation in Tahir Square’s first day of protests, which proved crucial to the uprising’s success and to the downfall of the authoritative regime (Tufekci & Wilson, 2012, p. 13).  The regime’s inability to suppress the active documentation of the protests via sites such as Facebook and Twitter only further spurred participation in the protests and contributed to the uprising’s success.

            I am very skeptical of Lisa Anderson’s denial of all of the above.  She claims that the dissemination of information about the protests that proved necessary to spur Egyptian citizens’ political participation was not a result of social media and the Internet.  Rather, Anderson relies on the influence of Egypt’s urbane and cosmopolitan youth, along with that of its army, on Egyptian society to participate in the Tahir Square Protests (2011, p. 2).  According to Anderson, it was not social media that ensured the success of the protests and thus of the downfall of the Mubarak regime, but rather Egypt’s culture of “deep communal bonds and trust” that guaranteed the uprisings’ success (2011, p. 6).  I, however, find it nearly impossible to dismiss the role of social media in the success of the uprising and the consequent downfall of Egypt’s authoritative regime, especially given the evidence provided by Tufekci and Wilson.

            Do you think that Anderson’s argument is a convincing one?  Is it possible to completely deny any role of social media in the success of the Tahir Sqaure Protests and the resulting downfall of the Mubarak regime?

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Reconciling the Scholarly Perspectives of the Arab Spring

When I first began to watch the national broadcasts of the Arab Spring, I honestly was extremely confused as to what exactly was happening. Two years later, social scholars are trying to untangle the confusing and inaccurate portrayals of the Arab Spring that national television continued to disseminate. In Demystifying the Arab Spring, Lisa Anderson (2011) attempts to take on the challenge of differentiating the Tunisian, Egyptian, and Lyban uprisings. I applaud Anderson for embarking on this challenge and taking a different focus in scholarship on the Arab Spring; however, I could not help but think as I was reading her article whether she was ever going to elaborate on each country’s unique characteristic posited to have contributed to the revolts. I think part of the mystification of the Arab Spring is that many of us are not knowledgeable of Arab countries in the Middle East or Northern Africa; Anderson’s (2011) divergence of the Arab Spring revolts is necessary because it is not common knowledge nor did the media often portray this perspective.

On the other hand, Howard and Hussein (2011) provide more insight into the relationship that we have focused on in class that of social media and SMS and the early Arab Spring revolts. I find it interesting that the scholars emphasize that the pervasive use of the Internet as well as text to discuss political dissent was in place prior to the circulation of Bouazizi’s self-immolation.  Furthermore, as the the autocracy attempted to control the networks, the information pathways shifted. This was also apparent in Egypt (Howard and Hussein, 2011). In light of this, I am reminded of Howard Rheingold’s (2002) theory of smart mobs and their networked-structures. Anderson (2011) states, “The important story about the 2011 Arab revolts in Tunisia…is [not] about how activists used technology to share ideas and tactics (p. 321).”

After reading the scholars’ perspectives on the Arab Spring, do you think it is necessary to converge or diverge the characteristics of the early revolts in the different countries? In other words, can the arguments presented by the scholars be compounded? If so, how or why?

Posted in Winter 2012 | 2 Comments

Importance of Digital Media in the Arab Spring

In Demystifying the Arab Spring by Lisa Anderson, she argues that social media was not a critical factor in the uprisings in the Arab Spring. Rather she believes that each revolt was unique and thus the more important factor to look at is why and how protesters used specific techniques to their advantage in their differing situations. However, I think it is hard to deny the importance of these digital media tools for communication as they allowed the people to be the ones communicating the stories as well as allowing them to organize.

While it is true that each uprising was defined by different challenges and wants, I do not fully agree with Anderson when she claims that since protests have occurred in the past without social media that the Arab Spring would have occurred as well without its presence. Since these last revolts times have changed and these forms of technology have become important resources all over the world. In The Role of Digital Media by Howard and Hussain, they point out mobile phones, the Internet, and social media were one of the few consistencies across the differing Arab revolts. These technologies were used to build networks, create social capital, and organize political action at a scale and at a speed that was never thought possible before. Howard and Hussain recognize that while there had been dissent before the Internet, the Internet helped to organize that dissent. This is especially important to recognize to show the importance of digital media tools for even though each revolt had different goals in minds, they all resembled each other due to this organizing ability, which was due in large part to social media.

Howard and Hussain emphasis the effect and risk people take by using the Internet and other digital media tools when they mentioned the death of Khaled, a blogger, who was beaten to death for exposing the police’s corruption, which sparked a movement on Facebook. The discussion of the use of this kind of digital expression was brought up in Tufekci and Wilson’s article when they mention how many people consider this action “cheap talk,” “slacktivism,” or “clicktivism.” However, I agree with them and believe that these actions should not be regarded in this way for, under the conditions of revolt and the situations they were in, the use of digital media tools seem just as costly as other actions. Do you believe that during these revolts the use of digital media for action should be considered slacktivism? How would this type of digital media use be seen as compared to digital media use for political movements?

Posted in Winter 2012 | 2 Comments

The Arab Spring: Separate and Unequal

In Anderson’s  “Demistifying the Arab Spring”, a main issue that arises is the US’ often-held view of Arab countries having a singular goal–but it’s simply not true. In Tunisia and Libya, speaking freely is dangerous and restricting while in Egypt citizens are relatively free to express opinions. This is why Anderson states that

“Egyptian Facebook campaigners are the modern incarnation of Arab nationalist networks whose broadsheets disseminated strategies for civil disobedience throughout the region in the years after World War I.”

Egypt perhaps is the most lucky then–the protest organizers are young people in the major cities fighting for the government to address unemployment and poverty, using their tech-savvy prowess and modern tools to mobilize their voices. That’s not to diminish their problems; Egypt is also plagued by an unruly and distrustful police force and constant off-the-books payments in most transactions.

On the other hand, in Tunisia (where Arab unrest was initiated), citizens need to grapple with class divisions and combat Islamist militant leader Ghannouchi’s “brand of political Islam.” The young people simply want their fair share of wealth and employment opportunities. In Libya, the situation is much more dire; the country’s economic woes include artificial scarcity, a cruel regime, and corruption due to a complete absence of political groups, associations or national organizations. Qaddafi has also prohibited private ownership, retail trade, a free press, and a reliable police force. Anderson argues that Libya isn’t even at the point of discussing democratization, but needs to construct “national identity and public administration.”

Clearly, this is not a cohesive and singular Arab revolt. The authorities in power in each nation present unique challenges. So how does this play into social media and its effect on these revolutions? The answer is not simple, and several theories we have discussed in class could provide an answer, but Howard and Hussain in “The Role of Digital Media” claim that “digital media became the tool [in the Arab spring] that allowed social movements to reach once-unachievable goals.”

Personally, I don’t believe that digital media was the sole spark that lit any revolution but I think it certainly sped up word-of-mouth and gave the people a place to speak where they felt safe.

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