Internet and Democracy

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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 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 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)