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