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#Internet #Socialmedia #Evegenymorozov – Setting up a straw dog? [http://bit.ly/gUppgD] [http://bit.ly/hH4AnD]



First Thoughts on Tunisia and the role of the Internet


Evgeny Morozov, Foreign Policy, 14 Jan 2011

“What strikes me about events in Tunisia is that social media seems to have failed in what many of us thought would be its greatest contribution (outside of social mobilization) — that is, in helping to generate and shape the coverage of events in the mainstream media. On the contrary, despite all the buzz on Twitter it took four weeks to get the events in Tunisia on the front pages of major newspapers, at least here in the U.S. (the situation in Europe was somewhat better — and it was way better in the Middle East — for all the obvious reasons). “



Reading that is a reminder governments have always used the latest technology against their people as effectively as peoples used it against their governments. It’s just different technology. The Ancient Regime smashed printing presses. The political groups set up other ones to pump out the revolutionary pamphlets. In pre-revolutionary Russia, the government would have tapped plenty of phones abuzz with the news that the sealed train containing Lenin had set off from Zurich.

The irony is that self-appointed social media gurus have set up straw dogs which they themselves find they are having to drag down. And that includes Morozov, who apparently was some sort of blog specialist.

To try to make an argument in a large book, that the downsides of social media out-way the ups, is hard to pull off.

Social media proved very effective in U.S. elections.

To argue that they are of little use or their effectiveness in social mobilisation is minimal because authoritarian regimes are quick to use the same media to catch internet activists, is little different from saying regimes rounded up activists before social media existed. It’s probably true, in the case of Tunisia, many more Tunisians outside Tunisia were Tweeting and using FaceBook than inside it. But these messages will have been in Arabic and French which some inside Tunisia got to read and pass on in some way or another. They still used the telephone, email and read the papers, listened for radio from all round the world and watched satellite TV. No one is suggesting that social media were the only avenue for protest and social mobilisation. Words of encouragement will have spread by less high tech means. Comms didn’t begin and end with social media. This is the internet-centrist position, which is only to be expected from people who live by the internet, web and clever software.

Anti-government activism in Iran started with blogs, long before FaceBook and Twitter. They arrested bloggers. Just because the Iranian election protests were organised with the help of mobile phones, text messaging, and social media, and this helped the government to track the activists, doesn’t mean to say it wasn’t effective.

A more honest and true answer, and one that didn’t need a whole book to argue is that it helped both in different ways. That governments have learnt to hack social media, can surely only mean that pretty good encryption will be taken up by greater numbers.



January 29, 2011 Posted by | Evgeny Morozov, Internet, internet activism, Internet censorship, Internet filtering, Tunisia, Tunisian cyberactivists, Twitter | Leave a comment