[iDC] The Twitter Revolution Must Die, on social media and their relationship to social revolution

Michael Bauwens michelsub2003 at yahoo.com
Thu Feb 3 11:03:25 UTC 2011

>My own five cents in recasting the debate launched by Ulises
>This was also published on the p2p blog yesterday, 
>Social Media and Social Revolutions: what is their relationship?Michel Bauwens
>2nd February 2011
>Every time we are witnessing a massive mobilization of social movements, a 
>social uprising or even a true social revolution, we can be sure to witness a 
>new round of debate between those that insist on the crucial role of social 
>media, sometimes even calling it a Twitter Revolution, and those dismissing this 
>and even warning for the dangerous role of trusting or highlighting their use.
>Here is my own contribution to this debate.
>First of all, I’d like to distinguish between two meanings of the concept of 
>The deep meaning of Revolution is one of phase transition from one social system 
>to another, and it is important here to distinguish the long course of history, 
>and its sometimes explosive accelerations, when a long term quantitative 
>development becomes a qualitative leap.
>I have not the slightest doubt that the invention of peer to peer communication, 
>i.e. the internet, the web and its social media derivatives, by allowing direct, 
>cheap and ubiquitous communication between peers, is a true and deep social 
>revolution, as important as the invention of writing and of print once were. 
>Literally, as with writing and print, the change in communication 
>infrastructures, the new socialization and balance of power it permits, changes 
>every field of social activity, not just gradually, but eventually leading to a 
>new social system working on different premises. But it is important to realize 
>that such deep phase transitions take time, generally speaking more than one 
>generation, though we do expect that one of the effects of p2p technology is 
>undoubtedly an acceleration of historical processes.
>Having said this, we are not saying that technology is the only factor, but it 
>is a major and important factor, with very deep social effects. Once print was 
>invented, the monopoly of truth of the feudal system and the Catholic Church was 
>broken, this is undeniable. Nevertheless, technological affordances are part of 
>an integrated set of change factors. We are also not saying that new technology 
>has only emancipatory and liberating effects. It has some, and they are very 
>important for social forces seeking freedom, justice and equality, but 
>technology is always a tool of struggle and contention, and will be used by 
>opposing social forces, each seeking to use it to their advantage. But what is 
>certain, is that a new communication infrastructure changes the balance of 
>forces, and has democratising effects. If the privileged want to remain 
>dominant, they have to seek new ways, advance a new social contract.
>Today, we can expect that peer to peer communications, and their new forms of 
>horizontal socialization, and the new tools it offers to citizens to organize 
>around common value, will also have a deep seated influence on social 
>structures, BUT, this will take time. At the P2P Foundation, we expect first a 
>reformulation of capitalism, but we also expect, in about a generation, a 
>fundamental phase transition towards a new form of society.
>Now we come to the second meaning of Revolution, as a specific political 
>revolution or uprising leading to a change in regime. Here also, peer to peer 
>media (a much broader category than social media), have an important enabling 
>effect, but we must distinguish different temporalities. First of all, there is 
>again a deep temporality, favouring horizontal socialization and the creation of 
>a new type of affinity communities based on shared values. This socialization 
>prepares for a stronger civil society, which gradually undermines the control of 
>authoritarian regimes whose control is based on the use of previous forms of 
>mass media. Yes, we do believe that in the longer term, even as authoritarian 
>governments learn to control and use the internet to their advantage, that it 
>does give more advantage to civil society forces, who learn to extend their own 
>autonomy and spheres of freedom.
>It is this longer process which prepares the way for the open source 
>insurgencies that we are now witnessing in Egypt and Tunisia. Based on that 
>longer process of socialization, which happened in the preceding years, this 
>allows at certain moment a rapid and massive mobilization of the people, who 
>become conscious of their power and unity, and indeed, gives them the confidence 
>to confront authoritarian regimes. But at the same time, these open source 
>insurgencies are based on common and general demands, and they can dissolve as 
>soon as either the goal is attained, or the battle is lost, then reverting again 
>to the longer term socialization processes we have just described.
>Needless to say, don’t confuse p2p media with corporate social media (though the 
>latter play a very important role due to their popularity), and of course, these 
>same media can be used for identification of dissent and repressive measures, 
>especially if the movements are defeated. Intelligent use of such media is a 
>sine qua non, and as we have seen in Egypt, even as people learn to creatively 
>communicate even without it, once the will to change has been established.
>But as we said, open source insurgencies can dissolve just as quickly once the 
>common goal, usually general enough to unite everybody, like with the slogan, 
>‘the dictator must leave’, is achieved. At this point it is important that 
>groups have used social media on a longer term basis, to establish themselves as 
>real communities that can play a social and political role. This does not 
>necessary have to be a traditional political organization as we have known from 
>the previous era, but can be a movement like the April 6 Movement, who has 
>recognized leaders that had organized themselves before.
>In other words, no serious social movement who wants to effect deep change, can 
>merely rely on the quick mobilization power of social media, but needs longer 
>term policies of socialization and of achieving consensus around common goals 
>and values. It needs a staying power that social media alone cannot provide.
>Recent events around Wikileaks, Tunisia and the total shutdown in Egypt have 
>also given us a valuable lesson into the reliability of corporate social media, 
>and the internet, susceptible to government and corporate control around choke 
>points. This means that at all times, serious activist will be ready not just to 
>apply alternative digital media, but also non-digital media. But in no way am I 
>making an appeal to abandon social media, or the public internet, indeed, this 
>is where the people and the users are, and no social change effort can be 
>successful, if is isolates itself from the mass of the people. Smart social 
>change agents will have a combination of confidential media for their own longer 
>term internal organization, and the judicious and careful use of social media to 
>reach larger audiences.
>To come back to the debates we mentioned at the beginning. Yes, peer to peer and 
>social media are deep agents of social change, and essential organizational 
>tools, but they must be part of an integrated strategy, that uses both long term 
>socialization and its short term power of massive and rapid social mobilization. 
>But even if we loose a battle, the deeper social change, will continue unabated, 
>though nobody can predict the exact balance of power, the capacity of social 
>control, and the new social contract that will prevail. But one thing is sure, 
>society, and its ruling classes, cannot stay the same in the context of emerging 
>p2p media, and the larger social forces, that can benefit from further 
>emancipation and democratisation, can also not ignore the great potential for 
>autonomy and self-organization, and the possibilities to use these media to 
>create a more free, just and equal society.
>Let’s not forget, the rulers had their own internets at least one decade before 
>us, and didn’t need a expanded public internet. That we now have access to it, 
>even under imperfect conditions and under their control, is a profound game 
>changer, it represents a unique opportunity and a unique tool that we cannot 
>dismiss and leave to our enemies. No social struggle is conceivable today, 
>without the right usage of p2p media. Just as the Reformation crucially relied 
>on books, and the Labour Movement crucially relied on print and newspaper, so 
>must we also rely on peer to peer communication infrastructures as a really 
>crucial component of any strategy for social change.
>(I have not touched here on the issue on the centralized control over p2p 
>infrastructures: creating true distributed structures is a parallel struggle and 
>effort that needs to take place on an ongoing basis, see here) 

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