does the internet undermine modern social movements?
Zeynep Tufecki has an article in DML Central about the relationship between social media and movements. The argument is interesting. Before, to effectively communicate, you really had to get your act together. So they side of effect of communication was movement building. Now, you don’t need any hierarchy, organization, or leadership. Social media allows you to bypass that:
Forefronting affordances and capabilities, instead of focusing on platforms or tools, allow for analytic depth without getting tangled in the specifics of the technology. Paradoxically, it’s possible that the widespread use of digital tools facilitates capabilities in some domains, such as organization, logistics, and publicity, while simultaneously engendering hindrances to movement impacts on other domains, including those related to policy and electoral spheres.
For example, in the past, the capability to organize a large-scale march on Washington, or a bus boycott in Montgomery, required extensive organization, coordinating everything from car pools to laboriously publishing pamphlets to setting up many meetings that in turn determine organizational and logistical issues. Similarly, battling for visibility through broadcast media often required investing in institutions that became familiar with the workings of media and power.
In contrast, modern mobilizations often turn to social media for coordination, logistics, publicity and more. For example, four young people in their early twenties, with no military or logistics training, coordinated the setup of ten sizable field hospitals during the deadly, massive clashes near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in 2011 using Twitter, spreadsheets and documents on the Internet (through Google Docs), along with cell phones to keep in touch with multiple points (Bear in mind that dozens of people were killed and thousands were treated at these field hospitals staffed by volunteer doctors and nurses, so this was not a minor operation to organize or supply). During the initial uprising of January/February 2011, Egyptian activists befuddled all censorship attempts and managed to get their own attractive narrative out to international media. Gezi protesters in Istanbul used social media to coordinate logistics for their spontaneous, massive gathering which, at some points, involved multi-day clashes with the police, and was partially accomplished by otherwise inexperienced, novice protesters who were also able to overcome the censorship of the pliant Turkish broadcast media. There are countless examples of how social media allows mobilizations to carry out fairly impressive feats with little prior infrastructure.
However, this lowering of coordination costs, a fact generally considered to empower protest mobilizations, may have the seemingly paradoxical effect of contributing to political weakness in the latter stages, by allowing movements to grow without building needed structures and strengths, including capacities for negotiation, representation, and mobilization. Movements may grow quickly beyond their developed organizational capacity, a weakness that becomes critical as soon as a form of action other than street protests or occupation of a public space becomes relevant.
Read the whole thing. Strongly recommended.
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