Internet and Democracy

From Technologies of Politics and Control
Jump to navigation Jump to search

March 27

Digital tools are seen as playing a major part in political activities and revolutions around the world from the Green Revolution in Iran to the recent events in the Middle East and North Africa. In this class, we'll explore the role of the Internet in political organizing, social movements and popular protests, and the potential impact of digital tools on governance.



Additional Resources

Class Discussion

March 27: Internet and Democracy

In Slaughter's article, there are quite a few many interesting points being addressed. Namely, Nye's notion towards resource power is interesting when examining websites such as Facebook and Twitter. While many users simply use these sites for aesthetic, or mass cultural appeal, many are simply unaware of their potential for power and control.

There is also quite clearly a distinct political agenda within both of these websites. Facebook, for example, was funded by InQTtel and radical republican organizations. So, there are obvious political motivations behind sites such as Facebook. It is an unavoidable Trojan horse, it is veiled Darwinism. Although, broad based prosperity within the United States has always come from a strong middle class. Strengthened regions across the United States all add to the reform. Billy Bob is improved by Wal-Mart, and is a good for all. By using these platforms for this function, a stronger more polished middle class may be achieved. In addition, the added benefit of espionage, mass surveillance, and invalidating adversarial world views is seen as plausible as more people continue to use these platforms. Extending this benefit across the globe is also a benefit, as there are many regions which desire what we take for granted.

Yet, not everything is quite that obvious, either. More recently, the brash outburst of political protests exemplified part of the natural process that occurs within most democratic societies. However, there was something not quite organic about it. What started these protests, and why? The first idea that comes to mind is that those occupy protests were staged as a controlled necessary evil as part of the democratic process. Aside from this, a way to test how everything is coming along while singling out potential trouble makers. It reminded me of a clip I watched on television the other night with the republican candidate Rick Santorum. In the clip, Mr. Santorum was upset with a supposed reporter. He was stern with him, while being dangerously clean. No matter how hard I tried, I could not shake the realization that the clip was staged and probably paid to be put on the news to give Mr. Santorum the appearance of a man in charge, a made up flaw with a specific purpose.

So, is it really revolt or just conversion and progress? It’s just people doing what they’ve always done before.

So, this is really nothing all that new to democracy. The first thing I usually ask when I read something, or watch something is: why is this here? We see things staged all of the time. And, most of the time we don't really realize what it's for in a greater significance.

After reading about Mona El Tahawy, what I started to think about is how these sites like Facebook work to extend pro-American style liberal democracy into less liberated societies. There are many regions of the world that desire what many Americans take for granted in their daily lives. And when an American is away in another country, how can they shout for help?

So we are adding in this idea of social media a part of the dialogue.

“In the 21st century, no regime worth its salt will ignore social media; those who do will find themselves looking for places to retire” (Zeynep Tufekci).

What I find interesting about this is that we are adding in concepts of democracy that were not there before. When we mention social media, it is distinctly an American concept. It's like going over to Egypt and setting up a McDonald's and a Wal-Mart and then getting everyone to shop there. If everyone uses Facebook, Microsoft, and so on, we are speaking a cultural language.

Although, very interesting to see how these sites are working to keep people engaged in the democratic process. It seems that as long as there are people willing to fight for freedom, then it will continue to grow.

I think that as we continue to talk and communicate on these sites, the greater the chance that we will begin to see a more level playing field across the board. That is to say that hopefully things will become more equal for everyone. After all, that is one of the core ideas of democracy. Men, women, and children, all living better lives. And it looks like it's going to be okay.

Just Johnny 17:11, 15 February 2012 (UTC)

Great analysis in the Social Flow Blog about the Kony2012 campaign. This reading made me realize the two powerful ingredients for the skyrocketing spread of an online message: pre-existing networks and philanthropy tactics. I had seen the video a few weeks ago and felt inclined to participate. I think anything that has to do with children is touching for the people, also for me; but at the same time I was wondering how this campaign, and no others--because injustice is present in a number of cases around the world--succeeded in the gathering of all that people, and these two ingredients led me to the Eureka solution. I think it's very interesting from the marketing point of view, and for sure marketers have analyzed the Kony2012 campaign, as they have done in the social networks.

As for the Russian reading, What most interested me about it was the networked public sphere phenomenon in practice, in which when an issue is considered to be from public importance online activists take action—like the Khimki forest campaign, the drivers’ movement and the Anti-Seliger protests. From my point of view this will continually help in the building of real democracies in which people can participate and their voices are heard. In the Russian case, this shift is happening and having success due to the low level of support that the people have for institutions, and it is something to be expected not only in Russia but also around the world. Not far away, this situation led the Middle East towards the Arab Spring, in which social networks participation was crucial to detonate the revolutions.Fabiancelisj 22:09, 26 March 2012 (UTC)

I think it is interesting to note from this week’s readings that collective action, through organizing online, is faster, easier (in that there is less physical barriers), allows for more collaboration of ideas globally, and is less expensive than traditional offline methods. Taking advantage of social media, Mona was quickly released after tweeting about her arrest by Egyptian police. In most cases, social media through Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are faster than mainstream media such as TV and radio. The internet has allowed for sharing of information as quickly and as simple as a click, for example, the “share” button on Facebook. The internet and social media have allowed for new ideas to generate online and then carried out offline. However, as evident in the Russia study, there is a disparity in internet use, which is more available to “city dwellers and younger and richer people.” Another example is the Kony 2012 video on Youtube, which people can easily share on Facebook, is “popular among youths.” In Russia, people mostly expressed anti-government ideas through the blogosphere. While the government fought back using twitter and DDoS attacks and offline methods, such as inflicting harm to journalists.Qdang 18:05, 27 March 2012 (UTC)

I had read the Gladwell article before and just seeing his name in the list of readings lead me back to it first (who doesn't always want to read a Gladwell piece?). I also generally agree with his conclusions about the limitations of social media and had arrived at roughly the same place in some of our earlier class discussions. As a result, I feel like my reading of the other materials was mostly through that skeptical lens. I very much agree that the degree of effort, true commitment, and genuine impact is extremely different on Twitter vs. in real life, and while that should be quite obvious it sometimes seems like it gets disregarded during our current age of adoration of social media and Twitter in particular. His explanation of how strong vs weak social connections play into that difference in true commitment was an interesting next step in understanding protest and activism both through social media and in our physical daily lives.

That all being said, I still was very impressed by the #freeMona campaign and its results. I like that the various pieces we read on it acknowledged that it was more or less a perfect storm of connected individuals and important relationships along with Twitter and that Twitter was not the be-all end-all savior in a vacuum, but it still seemed undeniable that this was the power of Twitter in action. The main point to me is that Twitter was used as the connective piece; a hashtag alone did not free her. What it did was inform and motivate a large group of people, and included in that group were a few with the existing power and connections to allow them to call the state department, arrange to send help, etc., and in the end that freed her. AlexLE 13:31, 26 March 2012 (UTC)

Just wanted to share this New York Times article - "Hashtag Activism, and Its Limits" - since it complemented the discussion last week about barriers to entry for digital activism. Aditkowsky 00:03, 27 March 2012 (UTC)

I liked Zynep's article and the term "slacktivists." I believe Kony 2012 was a large group of non-activists taking symbolic action. I had heard of Invisible Children before the Kony 2012 youtube video and had done some research on the organization. Full disclosure I am not a huge fan of the organization but I admit I still jumped on the Kony 2012 bandwagon for one reason - a genius PR/Marketing campaign. There is a lot to learn from this organization and how an effective Twitter campaign can sustain... if only for a short time. I look forward to our discussion in tonight's class.--Hds5 14:03, 27 March 2012 (UTC)

Social media (and Twitter for our discussions, has two affects when it comes to the user communicating a sentiment or action (versus any particular target government responding to such communications or actions). Either it creates a new cultural/political/geopolitical phenomenon that otherwise would not have existed in its identity without the existence of social media or that these transactions and movements have already existed for years but has allowed for “quicker” responses and actions as Zeynep points out.

Besides rapidity, I also think that social media has empowered individuals to become more politically active, which I believe is somewhat independent of the “quicker” hypothesis. While the example of Mona and the massive Twitter movement between journalists and state officials was sped up through almost instantaneous communications through Twitter, I surmise that those communications may have occurred to some degree (but in different modalities). But the Egyptian uprising is an example of people becoming more empowered through social media by reading or writing Twitter feeds as the events unfolded and therefore forming “complex, diverse and ad hoc networks” as Zeynep indicates as “dynamics of a global campaign.” But the formation of those networks relies not necessarily on the collective entity but of a collection of individuals empowered to join and participate in those networks. --Jimmyh 16:43, 27 March 2012 (UTC)

Great readings this week - looking forward to our discussion in class and very much interested in your perspectives as this week's topic fits right in with my project. I attended a conference yesterday hosted by Digital Democracy and the New American Tavern titled, "The Impact of KONY2012" with a couple representatives from Invisible Children and additional experts. I'll share with you what was discussed where the focus was mostly with: lessons we can learn from what worked about Kony2012, critiques of the campaign, the film, IC, and the larger issues they point to, what it means moving forward for non-profits, etc.JennLopez 17:51, 27 March 2012 (UTC)

Slaughter’s ArticleRelational Power: 1. COMMANDING CHANGE = getting people or groups to do things they don't want to do. 2. “CONTROLLING AGENDAS” = framing "agendas for action that make others' preferences seem irrelevant or out of bounds." 3. “SHAPING PREFERENCES”= using "ideas, beliefs, and culture to shape basic beliefs, perceptions and preferences." Please explain how Dec. of Independence is soft power? This is a government document, handed down as law. I interpreted soft power as the draw that led to hard power, which is what I thought the Declaration would be considered. “power with” vs “power over” = difference in collaborative power. This was the difference I noted in (something we discussed last class) but wasn’t highlighted Relational vs collaborative powers = force vs choice?

freemonaDebate over released (mentioned in above article): I would think that the twitter campaign had a huge impact on the result. Side question: how did she tweet she was beaten and detained? Someone else for her? My takeaway: another extension of users leveraging technology (or perhaps the ability of technology to travel with people) into other countries with less technology to be used as news. Cause/Effect Debate: Connected Users creating their own news versus topdown traditional newspapers (last class discussion)

Alexanyan/Professor/OthersRussian Politics and Twitter, Blogosphere, etc: “The Russian political blogosphere supports more cross-linking debate than others we have studied (including the U.S. and Iranian), and appears less subject to the formation of self-referential ‘echo chambers” “The online ‘news diet’ of Russian bloggers is more independent, international, and oppositional than that of Russian Internet users overall, and far more so than that of non-Internet users, who are more reliant upon state-controlled federal TV channels” “Popular political YouTube videos focus on corruption and abuse of power by elites, the government, and the police” These findings seem to support that Russia is embracing democracy and the old guard (which still apparently has a presence according to U.S. Media) is losing strength.

Kony2012Author: “Further, all human societies operate in a world of socially-constructed norms and ideals” ---- no mention of architecture I may argue that slacktivism does contain some harms ---it seems the author doesn’t want to answer any criticisms of it, but just purely defend the symbolic nature of slacktivism even if the information is not accurate. Boy who cried wolf? I think it’s important for information to be accurate. I think people demand the truth, and more importantly are infuriated when they find out facts are different after they’ve went along with something (Iraq). We are pulling out of Iraq (long term view has yet to decide if this will be adverse or not). As for Kony itself, we all know what its currently known for due to incident with leader arrest --- which further gives discussion to the effects of activism turned slacktivism. Going back to why we have the phrase slacktivism is because of “mistakes” made in the original reporting. Brendanlong 17:45, 27 March 2012 (UTC)

The articles I read for this week’s class were very intriguing and fascinating, especially since my final project deals with this argument to some extent. The first article was very interesting in general but it really got me thinking about the recent middle eastern and African dictatorships which have been overthrown by the people who gained access to mass media and communication systems to finally change an unpleasant system. The second article as well was very interesting and powerful in demonstrating the importance of the media and in this specific case social networks like Twitter. The article concerning Russia was fascinating in one sense but sad in another. I know for certain that what happens in Russia (politically speaking) is only a mask of what really happens and what people really think about the Government. Although it may seem that there is a certain freedom in the use of the internet, the truth is very far from this, the only difference is that what really happens is kept a secret most of the time, and those very few who are able to escape torture, prison and political assassinations, are able to flee and tell the world about their experiences. I really enjoyed Zeynep Tufekci’s article on Kony 2012 and I do agree with her totally for what concerns getting people to pay attention to what really is important and not just mundane activities but I feel that for the majority of the population at least now that is not the case nor will it be in the near future. It is often hard to convince the average person that there are extremely important issues out there which apparently don’t touch him but in order to change the system, should. The last article on Kony 2012 was also very interesting but my personal view on this matter is that I don’t believe that simply “sharing” or “liking” the campaign video will actually do anything to change the situation. Clicking “share” in my opinion is just a way of saying: ok, I saw it! But the question is: now what are you going to do? And the answer in my opinion is: nothing, just going to continue tweeting or posting about the next sport event etc. I might seem a bit too skeptical but this is my personal, and perhaps wrong, opinion on the matter at hand. Emanuele 18:05, 27 March 2012 (UTC)

There is a lot to be learned from KONY and #fremona. Collective action channeled through mediums like Twitter are more rapid and can reach a larger, more diverse swath of the population. These mediums are big and useful tools in these types of collective action campaigns. KONY helped those who are not typically involved in political activism (the younger age groups listed in the article) to get more involved/become more aware, and did so very quickly. I think that is one of the biggest strengths of social media. This is also evident in the article about Russian Twitter users. These people can now make their voices heard (although Tufekci points out the "rich get richer" phenomenon). The Gladwell article shows another perspective. I think it's important to not discount the masses who organize on the ground (the Moldovan protestors, Tehran protestors, etc), but to also keep in mind that social media platforms do play an important role and the dynamics of protests, campaigns, and collaborative efforts have changed. And, I think, for the better.

I, too, wonder how Mona tweeted? I noticed in the article's comments that someone pointed out how "99%" of Egyptians don't have the technology (phone, apps, network connection) nor are they bilingual (can't as easily reach an international crowd) and they use word of mouth, therefore the article isn't representative. But both Mona and Trufekci qualify the powerful use of Twitter by saying most jailed Egyptians don't have that option. At the very least, Mona shed more light on the "languishing" plight of the jailed Egyptians/protestors, and she did so in a big way. Aberg 19:47, 27 March 2012 (UTC)

All of these articles were quite informative, and all together interesting regarding the nature of activism and social media. However, I found one thing lacking in each of these articles; namely, popularity. Zeynep began to touch on the subject when he addressed #Kony2012 activists, naming them slactivists. His insight to the inactivity of those interested in activist movements was an exceptional read. But I wish he would have taken it a step further and addressed the issue of popularity. To analyze this you really have to analyze human behavior, which I won’t do here, but I’ll address it. Regardless of the nature of the subject, what will trend through social media, whether it be activist causes or cat videos, will be what individuals find to be most appealing to their interests at that time based upon the knowledge they have on the particular nature of that subject. In other words, if it sounds appealing to the individual, then it will retain that individual’s attention, and in retaining that attention, that individual will either seek other sources of information about that subject, or promote the information he just read.

This is simple trending, and simple mass appeal that all marketing firms know of and manipulate. It’s clearly evident that this is also what has taken place through #Mona and #Kony. Both of these trends became popular because they were able to pique the interest of so many, rather than actually meaning something. I’m not trying to say that they didn’t mean something, but Zeynep was on to something when he mentioned all the other world problems that we ignore. These subjects became popular, and eventually their popularity alone drew in many others to contribute to its popularity; and this is a trait that is special to social media. I have not seen the Kony video, however, if I were to watch it, its view count would increase, and in effect, move up the ladder of trending topics, regardless of my interest. An example of what I mean is the Rebecca Black song “Friday”. The original version has 26 million views, and not all that watch it really likes that song; it has 5 times as many dislikes as likes. But because it trends, more people are apt to watch the video, which adds to its count and adds it to the trend.

The principle of my argument it that while social media does help these causes, as Zeynep states, it also follows popularity contests, which are subject to causes that are not congruous with the activist cause. The greatest example is President Franklin Pierce. He won the presidential election of 1852 in a landslide victory with virtually no political experience. He was the most popular, not the greatest politician. This came to light throughout his presidency, and to this day is the only incumbent president not to be re-nominated by his own party for reelection. He became unpopular. He was a fleeting trend that individuals promoted without knowing the actual nature of the trend, and once the nature of the trend is known, it falls into disfavor. Zeynep points this out in Kony, and the Mona issue seems no different. They trend because they seem appealing at the time, rather than actually being the issue that is assumed by those who popularize it. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, or that the topics are inherently inferior, but rather they won the popularity contest.Nthib 21:03, 27 March 2012 (UTC)

I found the KONY article to be the most interesting of the bunch for this class. In particular, I had many questions answered as to how that particular campaign went so viral while others for similiar causes have floundered. It seems that "having pre-existing networks in place helped the initial spread of their message." Apparently, laying the foundation with clusters of youth or other tech-savv demographics is paramount to a succesful online campaign. Secondly, they used "attention philanthropy tactics" which mens they had high-profile celebrities increase their visibility substantially. I would argue that a third lever activated such a viral campaign in that the press came out and covered the spread of the campaign (both positively and negatively) which then spurred further dissemination. That level of tv and print media coverage then drew in those who were not tech-savvy to begin with or may use it for other reasons than tweeting, facebook, etc. Cfleming27 11:34, 28 March 2012 (UTC)

About Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article, it’s truly something to reflect on. There is a power, which has been latent, but is no more latent. That is the power of individual and collective opinion. I say it was previously latent, because although some people are more outspoken than others, most people tend to remain silent, when they think it will cost them much to speak up about injustice or needed change, or if they feel they can do nothing about the situation. Modern technology has put this human tendency into a new context, removing, at least in part, some of that “costliness” barrier. It’s easy to send a tweet, and become, as Slaughter put it, another drop of water that can form a “tsunami”. Although some places do their best to stop the rain of water drops, and manage to stop many drops, they can never stop them all, clouds condense in new places, and rain is bound to fall. Modern technology is facilitating this new avenue for the torrents of water to form and flow, so the power is no longer latent.Mike 18:31, 28 March 2012 (UTC)

Class 9 Internet and Democracy (March 27) Posted on March 29, 2012 1:30pm EST Harvard212 I'm sad that I missed this class discussion, but I'm sure it was good. Of the reading that we scaled this week, I found the FreeMona piece exceptionally powerful. It awoke my understanding of "going viral" in a manner that is meaningful and powerful. FreeMona also made me realize the impact of social media and what expedited communication could look like in the matters (and aid) of critical situations. Indeed, this class has long left the safe haven of talking loftily about law/internet/society in theory, but an active agent. Even something as "small" as Twitter. Needless to say, this is not the first time I was floored by the grandiose of our studies packaged in this little room and live-stream. However, this week's focus highlights the importance of free internet and sheds light on the previous conversation around internet laws and cross-cultural acceptance (and relevance). Free speech is something that is still challenged in many countries.

Further, I am impressed by the KONY inclusion into this week's reading. Once again, the under radar communication proves itself powerful. And perhaps we really need to look at citizen journalism through refreshed (and solemn) lens.