Collective Action, Politics, and Protests
Last class we learned about SOPA, and the fear that it engendered in many Internet commentators. Today we’ll start by looking at how anti-SOPA activists were mobilized on the Internet to effectively stop the implementation of this legislation. This will serve as a touchstone for other reading about use of the Internet in collective action, political protests, and the role of private corporations in protecting and facilitating this discourse across the globe.
We will be joined in the beginning of class by Oluwaseun "Egghead" Odewale, a fellow at the Berkman Center and an expert on West African elections and civil affairs.
- Yochai Benkler, SOPA/PIPA: A Case Study in Networked Discourse and Activism (approx. 16 mins., watch all)
- Zeynep Tufekci, #Kony2012, Understanding Networked Symbolic Action & Why Slacktivism is Conceptually Misleading
- Yochai Benkler and Aaron Shaw, A Tale of Two Blogospheres: Discursive Practices on the Left and Right
- Jillian York, Policing Content in the Quasi-Public Sphere (focus on the Introduction, and “Social Media: Privacy Companies, Public Responsibilities”)
Videos Watched in Class
This may be more suited to the subject of the last two classes, but I feel since the general subject of this entire class is Internet regulation I believe it is relevnt.
Having read several times Andy Sellers artful and very information article entitled "The In Rem Forfeiture of Copyright-Infringing Domain names several things strike he hard, bsaed in part of my own experiences as a political scientist and criminal and constitutional trial and appellate lawyer.
First of all our government seems really ticked off to reduce this to simple language that the Internet has taken away our imperialistic policies going back before the Monroe Doctrine. We always believe our way is the the best way and they try to communicate "It is our way or the highway," except the Information Highway is not what they mean. This highway takes away sovereign and imperialistic powers all the countries of the world try to impose on their own people and each other.
The government's faulty and frivolous attempt to control the behavior of the rest of the world through Internet control is almost a case of 21st century McCartyism. There efforts are like throwing away the baby with the bathwater. In criminal caes many states, particularly CA where I practiced have a process where a preliminary hearing is held to determine if there is probable cause to try an alleged criminal in a higher court. But the in rem process to shut down websites by enforcing forfeiture procedures is very different. Here on evidence that would not even be admitted into evidence at a preliminary hearing is allowed to not only justify prosecution, but to try in absentia the alleged perpertrators and even their victimes without benefit of any enforcement of equal protection or due process.
Americans are blessed with "inalienable rights" that few, if any other peoples have. Yet because we do not have control of those in those other societies we penalize our own people by taking property and putting restraints on them other people do not have. We give a competitive economic advantage, just as we do to companies that circumvent American labor and environmental laws who are allowed to hire individuals and companies in less restrictive countries. Our labor forces and manufacturers are penalized because they cannot compete.
The Internet has taken away the powers of the American law enforcement officials and even the United States Supreme Court because they have no jurisdiction over foreign jurisdictions and people. Here again, it is a matter of those who design new technologies racing to benefit from it with little attention given to the effect of poor planning, The FDA works in the exact opposite way when certifying food or drugs by making the process so slow that by the time they certify a drug thousands who could have been free of pain or even having their lives saved lose out as it is too late. We need a happy medium. As long as technology means not the advancement of the society, but to those privileged few who benefit financially from it the entire society will crumble. Rich 13:05, 13 March 2013 (EDT)
I found the lecture by Yochai Benkler very interesting. The discussion of the evolution of the internet from a weak sphere to an extensive network of organizations influencing politics and government on many levels through technology, was intriguing to say the least. It helped me shape my final paper topic to be more specific in the way I was envisioning it. This reshaping of markets and how the internet influences everything is really changing the world and how we communicate around the world is seen in my business everyday and will only continue. The future could bring with it a world of information where creativity and innovation could lead towards unbelievable results, or the global powers can be can inflict regulation and their legal might to stunt the massive growth potential. Interestingcomments 05:40, 26 March 2013 (EDT)
There is obvious controversy surrounding Kony 2012. Some believe that donations were not used for a worthwhile cause; others question the validity of the campaign based on the outcome (Kony was not captured in 2012); and many believe that this movement represented a western point of view, too detached from the realities of rural Africa. Whether you support or negate this crusade, my objective with this post is to examine the Kony-movement from the perspective of online social media. In other words, if we step-back and evaluate the facets of social media in this context, it’s easy to understand the power behind this mass-communication methodology. In today's world, "word" travels at the speed of light!
To support my claims, I selected a few quotes from our readings:
"['Slacktivists'] are acting, symbolically and in a small way, in a sphere that has traditionally been closed off to 'the masses....We are a highly-symbolic, group-oriented species and signaling our preferences—to others—is a key dimension of human action. Hence, there is no ‘activism’ that does not have a strong symbolic side. [T]oday’s ‘meaningless click’ is actually a form of symbolic action which may form the basis of tomorrow’s other kind of action" (Zeynep, 2012).
This is a powerful concept from the social media perspective. How much does a "click" really matter? As we surf the web, we come across thousands of messages, stemming from diverse sources, across countless platforms. We often take little action, beyond the click of a mouse. However, if we evaluate activism through a social media lens, awareness can ultimately make a positive societal impact, maybe not today, but down the road. In other words, watching Kony 2012 caused millions of people to take action, from politicians, to celebrities, to everyday citizens. The vast majority had never heard about Kony before this video went viral, even though he had been committing war crimes for 25+ years; and through social media, he became famous overnight. This movement, therefore, epitomizes the Internet reality we live in today—anyone can build awareness through online venues, and through awareness masses of people can take action.
"It would not be surprising if the intensity of the attention to this video—as well as the intensity of the backlash—did not become just such a moment for many future leaders. The kids are listening, maybe to a simplistic message, maybe to a misguided cause. But some portion of them will keep looking, listening and learning. Such moments have long-terms consequences" (Zeynep, 2012).
Symbolic power can undeniably lead to other types of power, which, as noted above, can stem from social media. Online messaging generates new realizations for those who live in shutoff realities. Before the Internet and social media communication, teenagers living in small towns throughout the U.S. were not necessarily over-exposed to global societal visions, as outlined in the Kony video; and if they were exposed to movements such as this one, it happened at a much slower pace. Today, social news travels quickly, world controversies ignite overnight, and societal uprisings can be witnessed in real-time. As a result, we have become more interconnected, and the foundation of this unification is social media. Does this mean people will now become more open to differing perspectives? Does this mean those who live in non-cultured worlds will soon become more cultured? Will social media ultimately bring more diverse groups together, on a common ground?
An important chain-reaction from the Kony video is worth highlighting: building awareness through social media leads to a broader audience that wishes to generate change; a broader audience is thus motivated to contact elected officials; based on mass influence, elected officials find the need to place new controversies on the public agenda; and as a result, action is taken (e.g., Obama sent troops to Africa to work with Uganda's soldiers). Although online communities may differ among parties and groups, as outlined in the article Liberals More Open Than Conservatives Online, people are inevitably taking action when influenced online. Therefore, in reference to the "slaktivist" connotation above, action can, and often does emerge through online awareness. Creating a "switch" in people’s minds begins through influence; influence expands when masses unite behind a common cause; and causes spread quickly through online social media. Zak Paster 09:41, 26 March 2013 (EDT)
Free speech like so many of the "inalienable" rights that the United States Constitution guarantees to those within the jurisdiction and influence of the United States is always a two-edged sword. It is sometimes a shield to protect and hide a sword. Wherever and whenever a right or even in some cases merely a privilege is given, there will always be factions that abuse it. The social media is not always very social and has in many cases become tools for those without necessarily having roles that benefit the society or societies in general. Back when it started there were many and probably still are today who believed that it was simply a screen for pornography. I am current doing my Final Project on Wikipedia and while my research is early and very incomplete I have already formed an opinion that I reserve the right to change as I obtain more data that in many ways it is hypocritical and a vehicle under color of free speech and free content for those with their own agenda. You can draw more flies with honey than vinegar and many of these social networks and communities are skilled at doing just that.
This particular controversial film is an exercise of free speech, but no more so that the millions who protested against the Czar in Russia a century ago. However, today it does not always take such a demonstration or one in Tiananen Square in 1989 to get results and even spark a revolution. The Internet has become a mighty sword and those who fear challenged by what they perceive as evilness behind it must standup and be heard and counter anything they disagree with or else that will be considered the conventional wisdom and prevailing beliefs. Rich 10:19, 26 March 2013 (EDT)
When reading (and re-watching the video) the Kony controversy, the full impact of the Internet once again permeated. I hadn't realized that it had only taken 6 days for the YouTube video to go viral - I knew it was quick but hadn't logged the short time frame. How we use the web and its far reaching effects has gone beyond what most of us imagined. With the need to be heard, societies have taken to online communication. Asking ourselves what the value of the economic impact to that video was - and the negative impact of what happened afterwards - we ponder how the impact of that free speech is worth while. Group think in a situation like that can, and often is harmful and doesn't achieve purpose in its purest form. Push and pull is inevitable in societies -- and having complete "freedom" is a utopian view point to say the least.
However the construct of the web at it's best allows ideas and discourse to be presented allowing for constant conversation of how to make things better/fair/just etc.
The downfall is that, to quote a very old philosopher, "Happy is the country that has a hero, unhappy is the country that needs one."(Plato) Millions of people piled on the "Get Kony" objective, and the pureness of the objective, to raise the profile of the invisible children of Uganda, became a moment in time after the creator of the video had a very public meltdown. That became the story, not the plight of the children...Another example was whe Iran was making some progress with the green revolution, Michael Jackson's untimely death all but wiped the plight of that country off the front page and did a great deal to oppress that movement .... the point being that sometimes sensationalism seems to overrule the true freedom of how we could be using the web to advance change. Caroline 12:06, 26 March 2013 (EDT) Caroline
The lecture about the evolution of the Internet in contrast with SOPA and PIPA was quite interesting to listen. The PIPA act is viewed as a grant to the social and political reforms that enables the facilitation of piracy. Although many are opposed to both SOPA and PIPA Act, there is ample benefit that implements the decrease of the piracy rate in the United States along with the careful consideration of copyright effect. In my view, SOPA and PIPA would make diverse websites more inaccessible, which would prevent users for exercising their freedom of speech. Social problems would ultimately cost millions of dollars to support new technologies. These bills do portray an infringing benefit for copyright and pirated material that could distress the entertainment industry within the www. Most Internet users enjoy the freedom to surf, post, and explore the Internet, however online piracy is a real problem that Congress sees it as an issue. The debate about censorship involves diverse major bills that are designed to stop the copyright and piracy, but is it enough? Ample companies seek protection rights to their product or good, how limited the implication of censorship could come along? The vast majority of users seem to react on serious revisions to protect our rights as citizens, which will introduce a new prospective premise within the usage on free knowledge, and “limited” expression of speech. user777 12:15, 26 March 2013 (EDT)
Today the readings were fabulous; if I do say so myself. I thought about a lot. This deepest thoughts I had were about the power of the doctoral degree. I just realized that there is always competition and that a doctoral degree makes a person better to socialize with others of the same dignity.
Now, with this having been said, read the following:
"There was an apple that was a mango, it said to a comma, "Where is your period?". The comma said, that period is not required, because we are all useful"
- the previous quotation is not the opinion of this author, yet is used to illustrate nothing, since it is a translation of thought, to media, then reanalyzed by a different person's virtual "avatar", if we may.
Does this require a doctorate of English? Is computer language actually censored, or is it sentured? This type of problem, the articles discussed, but the metaphysics of this diaspora is not implicitly "bit for bit".
I am excited for lecture today, and above all, and not a supremacist. Johnathan Merkwan 12:55, 26 March 2013 (EDT)
It was enjoyable listening/watching Yochai Benkler describe how all the smaller efforts to stop SOPA, while not all duplicate of each other, managed to support each other and created a synergistic effect that had an impact on public policy and public perception of that policy. However, I am still struggling a bit to understand the ultimate goal of Benkler and those who share his point of view. In terms of what he (and similar activists) are trying to achieve, where is the demarcation line between people's ability to speak and other's ability to choose to ignore or listen to them? Benkler referenced Wikipedia and the question they posted on their site: "Imagine a world without free knowledge." In terms of knowledge, what exactly is free and what can be protected and retained as private? Is the end state where everyone has absolutely equal voices, nobody with a greater voice than another? At the end of his talk, Nemkler mentions a large, diverse group of players all developing individual efforts which collectively to prevent their message from being shut down "by those with the money"? Is he simply attempting to restore some semblance of balance between the voices of those with money and the voices of those with little money? I can't seem to put my finger on any clear line to get a better understanding of what the goal is.
While I do remember the Kony uproar when it happened, the readings and video provided more detail and context. While it obviously would have been satisfying to see something tangible come from the effort to bring attention to him, it appears that, unlike the successful anti-SOPA effort, sometimes these crowdsourced, online efforts allow for many efforts to augment each other and create a synergistic effect and other times they can compete with each other and even become adversarial in their relationships.
CyberRalph 13:32, 26 March 2013 (EDT)
The articles discussing techniques of how the Kony online video made so many hits with YouTube and Twitter in such a short period of time were facinating. The first thing that came to mind was Tweetbombing, and to me the success of the Kony video was that it excelled in production professionalism, and the producers were able to latch on to the most popular celebrities in the Twitterverse such as Oprah, Rihanna, and Justin Timberlake. Support of those whom are popular among the young and technology savvy in 'pop'culture means immediate credibility to at least get a look at a product. The Kony video seemed to really be a first mover for using 21st century promotion tactics leveraging technology able to be accessed by the majority of the worlds literate population. Now those who watch music videos on YouTube and read tweets from celebrities had something of substance to grab hold of and simply re-tweet or post to their YouTube account,Like, and create a perfect storm of publicity in a very short time period. Understanding that a popular video on YouTube will show up as a recommended video on the home page helped tremendously. I do not know if the Kony producers were able to pay to promote their video, or get YouTube or Twitter to promote the video as a documentary charity or non-profit, but this would have also helped. Some of the celebrities pay to have their accounts on Twitter and or YouTube artificially promoted, and when Kony was endorsed by them on social media, this pay for promotion scheme worked to their advantage. The content itself is shocking, and simply promoting a bad video would not account for all of the views and re-Tweets. Human rights activism has come of age on the new social media, and the Kony video is a fantastic example of how that is happening. Some critics had said that it did not do much to combat child soldiers in general, but I disagree. The topic is now part of the global discussion of whether the United Nations and related international organizations may back loans for individual countries, and light shed on the subject put pressure on those using child soliders that they may someday be the next Kony video with them in the starring role. Bravo, producers of Kony2012. Daniel Cameron MorrisDaniel Cameron Morris 15:59, 26 March 2013 (EDT) ````
@ZakPaster: Like many, I criticized the Kony2012 video for oversimplifying and emotionally manipulating viewers. I didn't like how the video ignored the voice of the Ugandan people, how it portrayed them as helpless, and how it aimed to "make Kony famous" by making him a celebrity. I would say after returning to these articles, I am a bit more conflicted, mainly because I am unsure about the value of "symbolic power." Tufekci writes, "today’s 'meaningless click' is actually a form of symbolic action which may form the basis of tomorrow’s other kind of action." But as we see from Lotan, Invisible Children spent extensive resources into creating pre-existing networks that fueled the spread of the Kony message. An awareness campaign requires a built in infrastructure. And that kind of campaign costs money. In this case it worked. But while people may know who Kony is, what good is that awareness to the ultimate cause? Are we better off now than before?
If I'm donating to a cause in Africa, I would prefer the funds be used where it is most helpful (like on the ground in Africa or supporting research in the field) and not towards gaining public awareness. Because what good does that awareness and attention do, really? What are the implications when people think helping a cause means simply sharing its message? It's more than they would have done otherwise, yes, but is it enough to justify the money spent towards promoting that action? Tufekci says "The kids are listening, maybe to a simplistic message, maybe to a misguided cause. But some portion of them will keep looking, listening and learning. Such moments have long-terms consequences." I'm left wondering, "will they only listen to a simplistic message then? Will they only look for a message that emotionally compels them to share a video? Is that what they will expect from human rights advocacy? Or will they look deeper for the full, less dramatic context that's not so spreadable?" If we believe that tweet bombing a celebrity is a form of "symbolic power" and therefore we have done our share, what good is participating in more meaningful ways like listening to African citizens and supporting local, African-led organizations? I'm not saying awareness is bad, I just worry that the goal of these campaigns (and the money required to support that goal) will be focused on earning attention from the people who actually won't help in the most effective ways. Asmith 15:21, 26 March 2013 (EDT)