Hi there tout la gang,

We don't have much to say about research in practice at the Café right now

but we are talking policy and practice over here now: Literacy Enquirers.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

revolution 2.0

from Three Weeks in Egypt with Alan Taylor (The Atlantic) - John Moore/Getty Images

On October 4, 2010 the New Yorker published this in a piece called Small Change - Why the revolution will not be tweeted by Malcolm Gladwell:

The Internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvellous efficiency. It’s terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.


The evangelists of social media ... seem to believe that a Facebook friend is the same as a real friend and that signing up for a donor registry in Silicon Valley today is activism in the same sense as sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960. “Social networks are particularly effective at increasing motivation,” Aaker and Smith write. But that’s not true. Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires.

I think the recent use of social media to galvanize a group of web savvy internet users to sign an online petition against a CRTC ruling (that would allow large telecom companies to impose usage based billing on their competition) is an example of how the internet can be an efficient place for communities of interest to come together and advocate. I also think that participating in online referenda about irksome billing policies is qualitatively different than engaging in high-risk activism such as "sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960."

In the case of the anti-UBB petition, the petition signers saw a good result when Minister of Industry Tony Clement tweeted this:

As Gladwell says, the internet can foster a kind of activism but not the kind that requires the activists to develop a strong enough sense of commitment to the cause, and to each other, to support the risk-taking essential to creating deep social change.

On January 27, the day he was to be detained in Egypt, Wael Ghonim tweeted this:

And yesterday he tweeted this:

So what is all that about? Why is this participant in the January 25th uprising in Egypt, an uprising where hundreds of participants have been injured and detained and a number have been killed (there is controversy over the death toll numbers but most put the number at over 100), making this claim? Is it because he works for Google and sees the world through a 2.0 prism? Or is he experiencing a magnification of commitment that occurs when a revolution is tweeted?

I think there's an unmistakable effect that the Internet has had on dissident communities, that it has emboldened them. I recall when I was in the Islamist slums of Cairo, a friend of mine that I started to talk politics with silenced me immediately and said in Arabic (SPEAKING ARABIC) "The walls have ears."

There was a sense of fear in daily life in Egypt. And what I believe the Internet has given to dissidents is the -- the feeling that there are those in the West who care about them, an ability to talk with other people. So, it's a really -- a very empowering feeling that -- that nothing can take away.

David Keyes from CyberDissidents.org on NPR
(see video below - transcript here)

Gladwell might well argue that the ties between the Egyptian protesters and other Twitterverse participants are the weak ties of low-risk activism

but if those ties, however weak, strengthen the commitment and motivation of the people who have ties strong enough to support each other in high-risk activism, perhaps the revolution should be tweeted... and retweeted.

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