[iDC] The Twitter Revolution Must Die

Radhika Gajjala radhika at cyberdiva.org
Sun Jan 30 21:38:07 UTC 2011

thankyou for this!

I've been quietly fuming over the "is it a facebook or a twitter revolution"

On Sun, Jan 30, 2011 at 11:32 AM, Ulises Mejias <ulises.mejias at oswego.edu>wrote:

> [for citation hyperlinks and images, go to
> http://blog.ulisesmejias.com/2011/01/30/the-twitter-revolution-must-die/]
> Have you ever heard of the Leica Revolution? No?
> That’s probably because folks who don’t know anything about “branding”
> insist on calling it the
> Mexican Revolution. An estimated two million people died in the long
> struggle (1910-1920) to
> overthrow a despotic government and bring about reform. But why
> shouldn’t we re-name the
> revolution not after a nation or its people, but after the “social
> media” that had such a great
> impact in making the struggle known all over the world: the
> photographic camera? Even
> better, let’s name the revolution not after the medium itself, but
> after the manufacturer of the
> cameras that were carried by people like Hugo Brehme to document the
> atrocities of war. Viva
> Leica, cabrones!
> My sarcasm is, of course, a thinly veiled attempt to point out how
> absurd it is to refer to events
> in Iran, Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere as the Twitter Revolution, the
> Facebook Revolution, and
> so on. What we call things, the names we use to identify them, has
> incredible symbolic power,
> and I, for one, refuse to associate corporate brands with struggles
> for human dignity. I agree
> with Jillian York when she says:
> “… I am glad that Tunisians were able to utilize social media to bring
> attention to their plight.
> But I will not dishonor the memory of Mohamed Bouazizi–or the 65
> others that died on the
> streets for their cause–by dubbing this anything but a human revolution.”
> Granted, as Joss Hands points out, there appears to be more skepticism
> than support for the
> idea that tools like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are primarily
> responsible for igniting the
> uprisings in question. But that hasn’t stopped the internet
> intelligentsia from engaging in
> lengthy arguments about the role that technology is playing in these
> historic developments.
> One camp, comprised of people like Clay Shirky, seem to make
> allowances for what Cory
> Doctorow calls the “internet’s special power to connect and liberate.”
> On the other side,
> authors like Ethan Zuckerman, Malcolm Gladwell and Evgeny Morozov have
> proposed that
> while digital media can play a role in organizing social movements, it
> cannot be counted on to
> build lasting alliances, or even protect net activists once
> authorities start using the same tools
> to crack down on dissent.
> Both sides are, perhaps, engaging in a bit of technological
> determinism–one by embellishing
> the agency of technology, the other by diminishing it. The truth, as
> always, is somewhere in
> between, and philosophers of technology settled the dispute of whether
> technology shapes
> society (technological determinism) or society shapes technology
> (cultural materialism) a while
> ago: the fact is that technology and society mutually and continually
> determine each other.
> So why does the image of a revolution enabled by social media continue
> to grab headlines
> and spark the interest of Western audiences, and what are the dangers
> of employing such
> imagery? My fear is that the hype about a Twitter/Facebook/YouTube
> revolution performs two
> functions: first, it depoliticizes our understanding of the conflicts,
> and second, it whitewashes
> the role of capitalism in suppressing democracy.
> To elaborate, the discourse of a social media revolution is a form of
> self-focused empathy in
> which we imagine the other (in this case, a Muslim other) to be
> nothing more than a projection
> of our own desires, a depoliticized instant in our own becoming. What
> a strong affirmation of
> ourselves it is to believe that people engaged in a desperate struggle
> for human dignity are
> using the same Web 2.0 products we are using! That we are able to form
> this empathy largely
> on the basis of consumerism demonstrates the extent to which we have
> bought into the notion
> that democracy is a by-product of media products for self-expression,
> and that the
> corporations that create such media products would never side with
> governments against their
> own people.
> It is time to abandon this fantasy, and to realize that although the
> internet’s original
> architecture encouraged openness, it is becoming increasingly
> privatized and centralized.
> While it is true that an internet controlled by a handful of media
> conglomerates can still be
> used to promote democracy (as people are doing in Tunisia, Egypt, and
> all over the world), we
> need to reconsider the role that social media corporations like
> Facebook and Twitter will play
> in these struggles.
> The clearest way to understand this role is to simply look at the past
> and current role that
> corporations have played in “facilitating” democracy elsewhere.
> Consider the above image of
> the tear gas canister “fired against egyptians demanding democracy.”
> The can is labeled
> Made in U.S.A.
> But surely it would be a gross calumny to suggest that ICT are on the
> same level as tear gas,
> right? Well, perhaps not. Today, our exports encompass not only
> weapons of war and riot
> control used to keep in power corrupt leaders, but tools of internet
> surveillance like
> Narusinsight, produced by a subsidiary of Boeing and used by the
> Egyptian government to
> track down and “disappear” dissidents.
> Even without citing examples of specific Web companies that have aided
> governments in the
> surveillance and persecution of their citizens (Jillian York documents
> some of these
> examples), my point is simply that the emerging market structure of
> the internet is threatening
> its potential to be used by people as a tool for democracy. The more
> monopolies (a market
> structure characterized by a single seller) control access and
> infrastructure, and the more
> monopsonies (a market structure characterized by a single buyer)
> control aggregation and
> distribution of user-generated content, the easier it is going to be
> for authorities to pull the
> plug, as just happened in Egypt.
> I’m reminded of the first so-called Internet Revolution. Almost a
> hundred years after the
> original Mexican Revolution, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation
> launched an uprising in
> southern Mexico to try to address some of the injustices that the
> first revolution didn’t fix, and
> that remain unsolved to this day. But back in 1994, Subcomandante
> Marcos and the rest of
> the EZLN didn’t have Facebook profiles, or use Twitter to communicate
> or organize. Maybe
> their movement would have been more effective if they had. Or maybe it
> managed to stay
> alive because of the decentralized nature of the networks the EZLN and
> their supporters used.
> My point is this: as digital networks grow and become more centralized
> and privatized, they
> increase opportunities for participation, but they also increase
> inequality, and make it easier
> for authorities to control them.
> Thus, the real challenge is going to be figuring out how to continue
> the struggle after the
> network has been shut off. In fact, the struggle is going to be
> against those who own and
> control the network. If the fight can’t continue without Facebook and
> Twitter, then it is doomed.
> But I suspect the people of Iran, Tunisia and Egypt (unlike us)
> already know this, out of sheer
> necessity.
> [Ulises A. Mejias is assistant professor at the State University of
> New York, College at
> Oswego. His book,  The Limits of Nodes: Unmapping the Digital Network,
> is under review by
> publishers.]
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Radhika Gajjala
Director, American Culture Studies
Professor of Communication Studies and Cultural Studies
101 East Hall
Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green, OH  43403

http://personal.bgsu.edu/~radhik <http://personal.bgsu.edu/%7Eradhik>

"I am not young enough to know everything."
 Oscar Wilde<http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/o/oscarwilde103675.html>
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