Debunking sm revolution


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Debunking sm revolution

  1. 1. C OV E R S TO RY Ammar YasirDebunking the mythUnderstanding what social media can andcannot do in case of a revolution At a local gathering, a group of people was asked if they blogged, they shook theirheads in disagreement. They werethen asked if they changed theirFacebook statuses or shared videos,articles etcetera on social media; tothis, they enthusiastically agreed inunison. Not many of them knew thatusing social media – albeit for statusupdates, moderate sharing of websitelinks and videos – is micro-blogging,which makes them all bloggers. Thesocial media cloud is now so powerfulthat a teenager in a small town ofNoshero Feroz can address anaudience in New Jersey; but it allcomes down to the message oneintends to convey. down time maintenance that would have The Iranian elections in 2009 are often disrupted the ensuing drama. So did areported as a case study, being the first revolution take place? None event where the world witnessed You can blame the fake Twitter ids forthe potential of social media as a painting the wrong picture, the globalpropaganda jukebox and a platform for digital divide that kept a significantcyber-activism. The day the election results population out of the loop, or the Iranianwere announced, anonymous Twitter residents who were indifferent to the so-handles were created; these became the called ‘green revolution’. Whoever youmain sources of information from Iran to blame, the fact remains that the revolutionthe rest of the world. These anonymous never came.users asked the global audience to change A couple of revolutions did, however,their current location to Tehran, their take place two years later. They triggered adisplay pictures to green (Pakola fan, domino effect in the Arab world, withanyone?) and share every news item that autocratic regimes in Tunisia and Egyptcontained the hashtag #iranelections. Not crumbling down, and the setting off ofsurprisingly, the US State Department uprisings in Bahrain, Libya, Jordan andasked Twitter to suspend its scheduled many more. Mainstream news channels | 37 | march 2011 | SPIDER
  2. 2. C O V E R S T O RY What works Here, it would be appropriate to mention Take Back the Tech, an initiative taken to use technology to create awareness about women issues, and to educate women on how to protect their online presence. The campaign encourages women to use technology for their benefit, and highlights cases where technology was misused for gender violence. The success of this campaign lay with the women and men (yes, you read that right) who came together for the cause. They had a common goal, a direction and most importantly a strategy. Though the campaign is mainly advocated on social media and mostly covers technology related issues, all persons involved sit together from time to time to brainstorm ideas and execute a Al Jazeera, field reporters, journalistsand activists on ground took up social media What does not worktools to create awareness and spread the Misinformation coming from an unidentifiedword. The impact (of social media) became source, no matter how exhilarating orsuch that the revolution in Egypt was being seemingly-correct, can create confusion and dubbed as the revolution of the damage the cause. How many times have Facebook generation. So we must ask we received and/or forwarded text ourselves: Is it inevitable for social messages or e-mails that eventually turned media to be responsible for future out to be a hoax? Last year’s blanket ban on revolutions in the modern world? Facebook stands as a valid example, as this Online activism can be divided into was when text messages and e-mails were three main categories: circulated to disseminate all sorts of Awareness/advocacy, erroneous updates and information. organisation/mobilisation, and action/reaction. In this article, we will Organisation/mobilisation try to debunk some of the myths of Author and public speaker Malcolm Gladwell social media activism, based on the made waves and enemies with his article in aforementioned categories. The New Yorker, titled ‘Small changes: Why the revolution will not be tweeted’. Though Awareness/advocacy: he was widely criticised by cyber-activists for Social or free media empowers ordinary, his theory, he made some valid points. non-partisan individuals to publicise According to Gladwell, acquaintances that issues that otherwise don’t make it to we make online are weak compared to the the mainstream media (local and bonds of friends and family in the real life. international) for numerous He also opined that, when online, people put reasons. Alternate and social their minimum at stake, to accomplish goals media allow issues such as that are achieved putting in minimum effort. child abuse, gender-based violence, bureaucratic What works transgressions etcetera – which Fund raisers, donations, relief efforts serving the mainstream media is the common goal with little or no risk reluctant to address – to receive involved. The flood relief efforts organised by the attention they deserve. Pakistani civilians and NGOs is an example | 38 | march 2011 | SPIDER
  3. 3. C O V E R S T O RYof successful mobilisation usingsocial media. As members of sucha team, this writer and his peerswere able to collect aid of over amillion rupees in two days, usingFacebook, Twitter, e-mails and textmessages. Worth mentioning is thefact that when people distrust thegovernment, they are more open (todonate money) to people they knowvia social media. Hence, real-worldties versus social-media ties arecase-specific.What does not workSince social media gives every user an viruses and send out mass e-mails (e-mailequal opportunity to speak, it is a double- bombs) to create annoyance and disruption.edged sword. “So how do you make difficultchoices about tactics or strategy or What worksphilosophical direction when everyone has Setting up of websites, e-petitions, blogan equal say?” asks Malcolm Gladwell. posts, podcasts, Facebook pages and live As there is no defined leadership structure coverage of events on Twitter etcetera oftenor hierarchy, it can be quite difficult to reach works. However, their effectiveness variesconsensus and prioritise goals. Also, since from case to case. Some issues garnerthere are no defined rules of engagement, more attention than others – irrespective ofsocial networks can be the eyes and ears of their importance.the enemy. Exhibit A: Wael Ghonim, a prominent What does not workEgyptian internet activist and currently the Relying solely on social media for numbersHead of Marketing of Google Middle East is not a good idea. When the Formerand North Africa, gives much credit to social President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharaf, wasmedia; but in Egypt’s case, the country was asked why he thought he was popularalready united behind a common goal: Get among the Pakistanis, he credited hisrid of Mubarak. 300,000-plus fans on Facebook. However, Exhibit B: Notwithstanding the when it came to on-ground support, hardly aoverwhelming yet disproportionate role of thousand gathered to demonstrate theirtechnology, religious parties in Pakistan support for him.have always been able to pull in bignumbers in their rallies in comparison to the At the end of the daytech-savvy liberals. Social media is an excellent tool to raise awareness and promote social causes. ButAction/reaction when it comes to toppling down anConditions, cultures and traditions vary from autocratic regime, one has to do more thanone nation to another. In the past, to merely check-in a protest via Foursquare.highlight the importance of their dedicationto a cause, activists marched on the streets U.S. State Department speaks toand caused traffic on busy roads. Now, there Twitter over Iran The Sitesare other, more civilised yet radical ways to a cause. Some activists turn to New Yorker: Small changehacktivism to propagate their political; they take down websites by using From power to politicsDenial of Service attacks, upload Trojan | 39 | march 2011 | SPIDER