[iDC] The Twitter Revolution Must Die

Simon Biggs simon at littlepig.org.uk
Fri Feb 4 17:01:55 UTC 2011

An example of how governments use social media



On 03/02/2011 18:43, "Lucia Sommer" <sommerlucia at gmail.com> wrote:

> Thanks all, nice discussion.
> It's also worth pointing out that Facebook and Twitter facilitated the
> Mubarak regimes' agency as well, and that in fact the strategic pamphlet
> distributed by organizers of the resistance asked that it not be circulated
> via those or other website channels because they were being monitored by the
> police and state security:
> http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/01/egyptian-activists-ac
> tion-plan-translated/70388/
> Instead, it was distributed mostly via very old-fashioned means -
> photocopying and being handed out to other demonstrators.
> Yes, "lived experience is synonymous with mediated experience." The problem
> is that in much discussion of the enabling uses of technology, somehow that
> observation always gets used to collapse the very real differences between
> various *kinds* of lived, mediated experience - as if there is NO difference
> at all between sitting at a computer typing, participating in a
> demonstration, putting one's body on the line to jam the machinery of power,
> or (to return to the earlier discussion about the classroom) engaging in a
> face-to-face conversation or experience with others in real time and space.
> What always seems to get elided are the unique qualities of open-ended,
> emergent, embodied experience.
> Social media can be useful tools that aid in communication and change, but
> actually engaging with others in real time and space is necessary for
> transformation, whether of ideas or of a political order.
> Lucia
> On Thu, Feb 3, 2011 at 11:15 AM, davin heckman <davinheckman at gmail.com>wrote:
>> I think, Ulises, that you are right to point to try to break through
>> the dichotomy.  Like a lot of people, I get pretty frosted when I hear
>> social phenomenon, especially when it is so vital and critical as the
>> struggle for rights, attributed to a new technology.  Over my entire
>> life, consumer technology has been equated with agency.  And, quite
>> logically, successful brands move from modest claims of agency (this
>> toothpaste is better than that toothpaste at preventing cavities) to
>> speculative claims of liberation (this toothpaste not only prevents
>> cavities, but creates new levels of white hot whiteness in your
>> mouth!).  By default, we are in the habit of seeing ourselves as
>> something considerably less than we are without our products (I mean,
>> even baby teeth are not as white as the ones in the ads, right?).  So,
>> while it is kind of crass to call the events in Tunisia or Egypt a
>> "Twitter" revolution, it is hardly surprising that some, especially in
>> the US, would try to attribute the cause, the means, and the success
>> of the revolution to a technology rather than to people.  In America,
>> half the population doesn't even believe that the "public" is a
>> valid--We tend to call collective action "Big Government" and act
>> collectively to elect people whose sole priority is to destroy Big
>> Government so that the "job creators" (that's actually what we call
>> the billionaires in the US) can provide goods and services to meet
>> needs that we supposedly could not possibly meet by working together.
>>  In fact, the face of "radical" politics in the United States is
>> dominated by the right reactionaries parading around as the
>> "revolutionary" face of the more conservative of the two big parties.
>>  We are suckers for things like "The Twitter Revolution" because our
>> imaginations tend to be impoverished...  we have a really hard time
>> imagining people demanding peace, justice and freedom.  Of course, I
>> am exaggerating here, but if you watch TV....  that's the ideology
>> that is projected.
>> Of course, the landscape upon which human individuals and collectives
>> operate always exists before their actions.  In this sense, there is
>> some truth to pointing out that aspects of this revolution are
>> different are different from others.  200 years ago, the police didn't
>> have tear gas, they didn't have special sonic weapons, they didn't
>> have schools that trained them in low intensity conflict and
>> counterinsurgency.  Protesters, on the other hand, didn't have
>> wireless communication devices and digital images they could send.
>> There wasn't television, etc.  Of course, everybody knows that the
>> means of social interaction of a given society shapes the way desires
>> are formed, articulated, challenged, repressed, and pursued.
>> What I find interesting, however, is in the discussion of technologies
>> of communication, the focus is on Facebook and Twitter....  when the
>> real innovations seem to be driven by the variety of holes that are
>> being exploited by the protesters themselves against the attempted
>> media blackout.  The only reason, in the case of Egypt, that we have
>> information is because people are patching the technology themselves.
>> And when you see people putting their skin on the line, walking away
>> bloodied or, worse, being carried away, you realize that they are
>> making the revolution themselves.  It's hard to imagine that Twitter
>> is such a factor in someone's decision to brave the billyclubs,
>> teargas and bullets as much as it is humanity.  And, in those cases
>> where messages were disseminated via a particular channel, what is
>> more compelling is the successful social solidarity that is imagined
>> across the span of limited information.  To go from a 140 character
>> message to a full-blown bodily confrontation is really a triumph of
>> the human capacity to identify with others given sparse communication.
>>  Prisoners in isolation have kept their sanity and formed community by
>> tapping out messages with spoons on the walls of their cells.  When
>> one channel closes, people create another.
>> Which brings me back to the question of the ideology projected in the
>> idea of the Twitter Revolution itself. There are economic
>> opportunities in branding this revolution and their are sad political
>> ramifications to seeing this event as a technological one, rather than
>> a human one.  The way we who are witnessing the event on TV, radio,
>> newsprint, and internet make sense of this revolution is not entirely
>> removed from the struggle that people are engaged in in Eqypt.  They
>> fight against a certain type autocratic rule that is a node on a
>> continuum of political power that is interconnected.  We are a node on
>> the same network.  The regime they challenge has been propped up by a
>> world order that has many public faces, one of which is our own.  In
>> Egypt, Mubarak tried to impose a blackout, in the US, we try to create
>> a narrative for the revolution rather than simply blacking it out.
>> One way is to call it a "Twitter revolution," another is to downplay
>> the history of foreign policy, and a third is to create a distance
>> between the people in Egypt and the people in the United States.  But,
>> I also think there are people who see in Egypt and Tunisia hope and
>> encouragement, the profound stirring of the human spirit, not just in
>> what one imagines the people are fighting for, but in how they are
>> fighting for each other.  Part of the challenge, I suppose, is in
>> figuring out how best to seek and express solidarity, not just as a
>> gesture, but in a meaningful way within our own communities.  How do
>> we learn from the Egyptian people?  How do we represent this struggle
>> honestly?  How should we struggle at home?
>> Peace!
>> Davin
>> On Wed, Feb 2, 2011 at 10:56 AM, Ulises Mejias <ulises.mejias at oswego.edu>
>> wrote:
>>> Thank you, all, for your comments.
>>> I'm afraid that while I was trying to get beyond the "media did it" (as
>> Mark
>>> Deuze puts it) v. the "people did it" dichotomy, my condemnation of
>>> corporate branding seems to have skewed my argument towards "people did
>> it."
>>> While this is a function of my own biases, and it felt like it needed to
>> be
>>> said at the moment, it is nonetheless problematic. I agree with Mark when
>> he
>>> says that "lived experience is synonymous with mediated experience"
>>> (specially when we take into account all forms of mediation, including
>>> language and non-verbal communication, not just digital mediation).
>>> Actor Network Theory has taught us that agency is a complex web of
>>> interactions in which humans and non-humans intervene, and I agree with
>> you,
>>> Anna, that we need more nuanced maps of the assemblages. I also agree
>> with
>>> you, Biella, that these assemblages provide new affordances for
>>> co-witnessing the event.
>>> But is analysis and co-witnessing the only modes of participation? What
>> is
>>> our responsibility, as media
>> practitioners/scholars/artists/educators/etc.,
>>> at a time like this?
>>> -Ulises
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Simon Biggs
simon at littlepig.org.uk

s.biggs at eca.ac.uk

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