T600 Dissent at a Distance


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  • Thanks everyone for being here. It is humbling to see so many colleagues and professors whom I admire very much, here to listen to me talk about one of my projects.
  • Writing this paper has been an iterative process for me. It started it in 2009 as a seminar paper and has been presented in different forms at NCA, ICA, CHI. I’ve worked on fine tuning the paper in multiple seminars since its inception and am currently working with my advisor Harmeet on polishing it up to send out for review very soon. I say all of this because, before I send it out, I’d love to hear your questions or feedback after the presentation so I can incorporate those into my final draft of the paper. I also know some of you taking T600 right now are blogging and tweeting about the talks today, I’d love to hear any of your comments through those avenues if you’d like to send me links to them. Before I get started talking about the paper I’d like to talk a little about why I started out researching this topic and situate this project into a broader public discussion about the role of social media, in particular, micro-blogging tool Twitter, in recent protests. Back in 2009, though, I remember listening to my professors in class talk about ways that broadcast technologies and new media might or might not impact social power structures. I heard that over and over again throughout history, when a new medium was introduced people thought it would solve problems of inequality and bring about democracy and time and time again, the technology fell short. I guess I must have been particularly optimistic or naïve but I felt that the use of Twitter in recent protests might be in some way different than the communication tools used by activists of the past. So, I started piecing together stories of Twitter use in three recent protest events to see what was going on. So this is when I decided to write the first draft of this paper. The three cases are provide the empirical support for the claims I’ll outline in a few minutes. Recently, I recall talking to my friend Nic Matthews about the fact that when I started this project it was still kind of laughable to think that new media could impact protest movements. If I’d have said then that Twitter would play an important role in bringing down autocratic regimes in the Middle East, people would have thought I was crazy. Today, saying the opposite might warrant looks of skepticism.
  • In 2009 Many journalists and academics began to use the phrase “Twitter Revolution” in describing events in Moldova & Iran in that year.
  • While Iran’s government was not overturned in 2009, the ripple effect was felt across the Middle East and northern Africa. Because of a number of reasons, including the growing popularity, and number of skilled users of the Internet and media technologies, a huge number of young people have joined revolutionary movements and overturned governments like Egypt and Tunisia in the region. While new media, on its own, doesn’t determine a revolutions success or failure, it does play an active role especially in combination with other factors.
  • This work is inspired by a recent upsurge in attention on the part of journalists and academics about the role that new media have played in uprisings in Iran, Egypt, Tunisia. Recent Occupy Wall Street protests also add to the interest in this topic.
  • .
  • Many of these theorists have suggested (perhaps too enthusiastically) that new communication technologies like microblogging tool Twitter have had an important impact on these social movements’ successes or failures.Other observers discuss the social forces responsible for the uprisings but downplay the importance of communication tools. Still others argue that both of these two perspectives are essential to understanding recent phenomena. Interestingly, all authors (even those who call for a more holistic approach) view these two entities as separate in their discussions of social media and social change. This has implications on what kinds of questions investigators can ask and what types of findings one can achieve.It will be suggested in this paper, that by side-stepping this distinction a different kind of inquiry can occur— one which sees technologies as artifacts which reveal the motivations and actions of the people and institutions using them.
  • by observing cases where the communication tools are put to use in negotiations of political power we can better understand the socio-technical processes in which the tools are embedded. In a sense, the communication tools become artifacts which reveal cultural and historical insights about the actions, motivations and orientations of those who put them to use.
  • In the interest of time, I’m not going to go into a whole lot of detail here, but I just want to identify a theory I use in my paper which guides much of my analysis. Media materiality theory suggests that two types of technologies have different social and technical constraints. I would like to emphasize though that this must not be a technologically deterministic perspective. Indeed, seeing technologies as artifacts, as I propose in this paper, allows us to see what social and cultural forces are embedded in technological objects and what forces they amplify in society. In short, media materiality theory helps us to see the place where the technical and the social become indistinguishable from one another.
  • Over the course of the rest of this presentation I will describe three 2009 protest events in which Twitter was used as a communication tool by protesters and close with some concluding thoughts. Case 1.) The aftermath of the 2009 Iranian elections which resulted in widespread protests in Iran,Case 2.) The protests following fraudulent elections in 2009 in Moldova Case 3.)The protests surrounding the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2009. These cases have been chosen to illustrate the fact that Twitter is an extremely versatile tool put to use in multiple ways by different groups of protesters and governments. In other words, we’ll see that there is not one single use or result of Twitter-use in protest events. Most importantly, however, these cases have been chosen because variances in the use of a single tool helps to highlight the fuzzy distinction between the role that social forces and technological affordances play in social and political struggles. In these areas of fuzzy distinctions, however, one is clearly able to see the political motivations of governments, protesters and protest observers (mass media outlets, etc.) in ways not possible before.
  • In the case of Iran,
  • In Moldova,
  • And in the G-20 Summit protests in Pittsburgh in September of 2009,
  • T600 Dissent at a Distance

    1. 1. Dissent at a DistanceLindsay Ems IU Department of Telecommunications
    2. 2. Do new media empower or enslave us?
    3. 3. Egypt Iran LibyaTunisia
    4. 4. Also…
    5. 5. Where social and technological forces collide:New protest tools reveal authoritarian regimes fumbling tomaintain political power.
    6. 6. Social Media and Social Movement Analysts – 3 Perspectives1.) Communication technologies impact social movement’s success or failure2.) Emphasize social forces & downplay the importance of communication tools3.) Both perspectives are essential to understanding recent phenomena
    7. 7. The goal: It will be suggested in this paper, that by side-stepping the distinction between the technical and the social a different kind of inquiry can unfold— one which sees technologies as artifacts which reveal the motivations and actions of the people and institutions using them.
    8. 8. Media Materiality TheoryMateriality is “the interplay between a text’s physicalcharacteristics and its signifying strategies” (Hayles, 2004)
    9. 9. Iran 2009 Moldova 2009 G-20 Summit Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 2009
    10. 10. Iranian Protests June 13-16, 2009 • 62.63 62.63 % to 33.75%
    11. 11. Moldovan Protests April 5-7, 2009
    12. 12. G-20 Protests September 22-25, 2009
    13. 13. Elliot Madison – Arrested for Tweeting the Location of Police
    14. 14. Conclusions 1. Twitter was used differently in each of the three cases. 2. The use of new communication technologies makes the actions and motivations of each party visible in a way not possible before. Note: This is often an advantage for protesters not governments. 3. Information flows from the bottom up. 4. Online protesters provide support in the form of sympathetic capital.
    15. 15. Contribution Instead of asking what role do new media play in protest events, we should ask: 1.) In what way are new media being used in protest events? 2.) What does this tell us about social structures and the motivations/desires of players in specific negotiations of power.
    16. 16. To recap: By side-stepping thedistinction between thetechnical and the social weare able to see newcommunication technologiesas artifacts which reveal themotivations and actions ofthe people and institutionsusing them in ways wecouldn’t before.
    17. 17. Thank you!lems@indiana.edu