[iDC] Insert Brand Here Revolution

Deepthi Welaratna deepthiw at gmail.com
Mon Jan 31 21:26:07 UTC 2011

Just wanted to add a resounding AGREED to Jesse's mention of how Wired
regularly commodifies revolution in its pages. Terrible.

I also wanted to chip in a piece I wrote about Iran's protests that
prefigures today's protests in Egypt. Certainly some of the same
strategies and problems crop up across both. But there is a much more
cohesive message emerging from Egypt, partly because Iran established
pathways to global media platforms, and defined a set of frames for
reading Egypt. Some of those frames are plumed in this piece,
including Twitter strategies and limitations.



Deepthi Welaratna
Media | Globalization | Culture

Tel: 415.335.0500
Email: deepthiw at gmail.com
Web: deepthiw.com
Tweet: twitter.com/deepthiw

On Mon, Jan 31, 2011 at 4:11 PM,  <idc-request at mailman.thing.net> wrote:
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>   1. Re: The Twitter Revolution Must Die (Jesse Drew)
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> Message: 1
> Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2011 12:47:03 -0800
> From: Jesse Drew <jdrew at ucdavis.edu>
> Subject: Re: [iDC] The Twitter Revolution Must Die
> To: Ulises Mejias <ulises.mejias at oswego.edu>
> Cc: idc at mailman.thing.net
> Message-ID: <6C16F39C-CA38-4844-B564-F6DC160AE77C at ucdavis.edu>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"
> Yes, thanks for this.  This commodification of the word "revolution" has been going on for some time now, however, especially from the corporate cheerleaders of Wired magazine.
> Here's a screenshot from our "Teller Machine" project from the early 1990s:
> Revolution is not a microchip, a breakfast cereal, or a new laundry soap-Revolution is an insurrection in which one social class overthrows another.
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> -Jesse
> On Jan 30, 2011, at 8:32 AM, Ulises Mejias 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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> Jesse Drew, Ph.D.
> Director, Technocultural Studies
> University of California at Davis
> Art Building, Room 316
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> jdrew at ucdavis.edu
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