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Evgeny Morozov

  1. 1. What We Don't Get About Social Media's Dark Side By Evgeny Morozov May 2012
  2. 2. The Background My perspective: shaped by NGO/philanthropy experience 2005-2006 excitement about “blogs” = today's excitement about “social media” Got frustrated with uncritical and naïve embrace of “technological fixes” by policy- makers
  3. 3. What is it to be “critical” of the Net? * It's NOT to reject it as unimportant, unnecessary or uninteresting (≠SKEPTICISM) * It's NOT to deny that the Net can enhance democracy, undermine authoritarianism, etc (≠DISMISSAL) * It's NOT to suggest that bad guys (dictators, NSA, Microsoft) will always win (≠ PESSIMISM)
  4. 4. Instead we need to... - Reject claims of the Net's “inherent logic” - Avoid “is-ism” mentality - Recognize that preserving the liberating potential of the Net will be hard work
  5. 5. I. Authoritarian regimes - Utility of soc media depends on the political cycle - Emergencies/revolutions aren't representative 1 events - If current business and political trends continue, the Net will be less useful to dissidents, more useful to dictators
  6. 6. Why is the “dark side” so hard to notice?
  7. 7. Technology & Social Change Instrumentalist vs Ecological Perspectives
  8. 8. Instrumentalist Perspective - The Internet is just a neutral tool, an instrument, an amplifier - It can be used for both good and bad - It's all about how people use it - If the Internet weren't available, protesters would have used some other tool - The Net's role is most interesting during/right before protest
  9. 9. Exhibit A: Zuckerberg “Social media’s role [in the Arab Spring] is maybe a bit 12 overblown. If people want change, then they will find a way to get that change. Whatever technology they 10 may or may not have used was neither a necessary nor sufficient case for getting to the outcome that 8 they got to, but having people who wanted change 6 Column 1 Column 2 was. I don’t pretend that [if] Facebook didn’t exist, that Column 3 this wouldn’t even be possible. Of course it would have” 4 Mark Zuckerberg on Charlie Rose, Nov 7, 2011 2 0 Row 1 Row 2 Row 3 Row 4
  10. 10. Questions to Zuckerberg: 1. Doesn't the Internet alter – in one way or another - how and why people “want change”? 2. More broadly: doesn't the notion of “change” mean something different for a person with Internet access than to a person without it?
  11. 11. Exhibit B: Malcolm Gladwell “People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented... People with a grievance will always find ways to communicate with each other. How they choose to do it is less interesting, in the end, than why they were driven to do it in the first place.” Malcolm Gladwell, “Does Egypt Need Twitter?”, New Yorker's News Desk blog
  12. 12. Questions to Gladwell 1. Is someone who has a grievance and is online fundamentally different from someone who has a grievance and is offline? 2. To what extent does the Internet alter what it means “to have a grievance”? Does it give rise to new grievances that wouldn't be possible before? 3. Didn't technology/media play at least SOME role in the run-up to East German protests or the French revolution?
  13. 13. Exhibit C: Clay Shirky 1.0 "Because the cost of sharing and coordinating has collapsed, new methods of organization are available to ordinary citizens, methods that allow events to be arranged without much advance planning." Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody, 2008
  14. 14. Key Question to Shirky 1.0 1. What if the Net makes it more likely that people WON'T organize protests (e.g. fears of surveillance or slacktivism or cyber- hedonism...) 2. More broadly: Instrumentalist position knows how to deal with assessing effectiveness of protest, but what about its likelihood?
  15. 15. Ecological Perspective - The Net is more than a tool; it transforms both the environment where politics is made, and those who participate in politics - In authoritarian regimes, the Internet may be creating a new, digital, networked public sphere - The Internet's most interesting impact is not during protest but before & after it
  16. 16. Exhibit A: Shirky 2.0 1 “...What I didn't do a good enough job of assessing [in Here Comes Everybody] is that ...the ability to turn people out on the street is the end of a long process rather than a shortcut...Countries where this kind of turnout worked best was where there had been years of conversation in advance among people who were politically like- minded enough to agree on a strategy.“ Clay Shirky, interview with Anneberg Digital News, Nov 2011
  17. 17. Exhibit B: Marc Lynch ” “... the strongest case for the fundamentally transformative effects of the new media may lie in the general emergence of a public sphere capable of eroding the ability of states to monopolize information and argument, of pushing for transparency and accountability, and of facilitating new networks across society...The question of whether that authoritarian state can adapt to this challenge, as it has to others in the past, should shape our research agenda in the coming years.” Marc Lynch, “The Limits and Promise of Online Challenges to the Authoritarian Arab State
  18. 18. Ecological Tradition: Key Questions 1. Can we ** predict ** the influence that the Internet will have on a given *ecology*? How do we know we have told the whole story? → importance of context and local knowledge 2. If we can predict that influence, how do we translate its influence on ** ecology ** to its impact on political life? (e.g. “networked public sphere”: what is its impact?)
  19. 19. Propositions 1. Smart dictators will use the Net to suppress some of the Net's emancipatory capabilities WHILE developing new, repressive capabilities 2. Whether they succeed depends on many factors, many of them independent of technology 3. The task is to understand their game plan
  20. 20. Dictators' Adaptation Strategies - From Censorship to New Forms of Harassment - Propaganda - Surveillance - Control of online resources - Use of tech to outsmart the protesters - Post-protest clean-up with emerging tech
  21. 21. New forms of censorship - Delegating Censorship to Private Companies ● - Bypassing the Dictator's Dilemma: From Filtering to Customized Censorship ● - Cyber-attacks: Tomaar
  22. 22. New Forms of Propaganda - China's 50-cent army ● - Russia's “Spinternet” initiatives ● - Active use of Twitter by pro-government forces in Syria and Bahrain
  23. 23. New forms of surveillance - Spying on activists with Western technology - Mobile tracking - Data-mining + social graph analysis
  24. 24. Control of Online Resources - Russia/China vs Egypt/Tunisia: platform control - Iran's “halal” internet ● - Pressure on BlackBerry (and now others) to keep servers in the country
  25. 25. Outsmarting protesters - Flashmobs in Belarus - Fake protests in Sudan - Facebook pressure in Zimbabwe
  26. 26. Post-protest “clean up” - Facial recognition technology - Voice analysis - Identification of who was in the protest zone through mobile phones
  27. 27. The real Internet Freedom Agenda To thwart these adaptation strategies, we'll need to ask a lot of tough questions about - how Silicon Valley should run its affairs - how tightly we want to regulate exports of technology to repressive regimes - how far Western law enforcement agencies want to go in terms of online surveillance
  28. 28. Dystopian future? - The Net is NOT inherently liberating; its liberating potential may shrink or grow depending on the circumstances - Dictatorships may collapse for all sorts of reasons but let's not make their jobs easier - Key Q: will the Net be MORE or LESS conducive to dissent in 5 years?
  29. 29. II. Democracies - Instrumental vs Ecological logic works here as well - Optimists point to growth in an individual's ability to a) get published b) find supporters & organize together - Heavily influenced by US preoccupation with civil society & freedom of expression
  30. 30. Democratization of Everything? - Analogies to printing press are misleading - Corporate environment + state apparatus more complex - Getting published ≠ Getting heard - Inequality reinforced online?
  31. 31. Trivially true but... - This is not the only effect – once again, we need an ecological rather than instrumental perspective - Transition to “social media” from “Web 1.0” publishing adds many more layers of complexity
  32. 32. New Players = More Complexity Old Model: Your hosting company New Model: Apple, AMZN, Google, FB, Twitter ==================================== Old Model: You paid $ and they left you alone New Model: It seems free but it isn't
  33. 33. The new intermediaries - Powerful but their civic commitments are often neither obvious nor transparent - Run by geeks who have some odd ideas about democracy -Their incentive structure is profit-oriented rather than democracy-oriented
  34. 34. Being “critical” of new intermediaries * Whatever their role in improving access to information or assisting collective action, we shouldn't accept these new intermediaries and their mediating role uncritically * These new intermediaries may end up empowering those already in power, producing less effective politics, lowering the quality of the public debate, etc
  35. 35. Google as lifestyle intermediary
  36. 36. Google: the car
  37. 37. Amazon as literary intermediary
  38. 38. Personalization of Text?
  39. 39. Facebook as political intermediary
  40. 40. What's to be done - The point is not to reject these intermediaries - Rather: push for alternative values/designs ● - Otherwise: easy to see these tools having a negative effect on democratic politics
  41. 41. Thank you! Twitter: @evgenymorozov