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Political Protest in an Anonymized, Atomized Internet Age

Political Protest in an Anonymized, Atomized Internet Age

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Published by leah_libresco

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Published by: leah_libresco on May 06, 2011
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01/04/2013

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A NewFuture of Facelessness:PoliticalProtest in anAnonymized,AtomizedInternet Age
Leah Anthony Libresco
Advisor: Bryan GarstenApril 25, 2011
 
 Introduction
In February of 2011, a baby girl was born in Egypt and given the name Facebook JamalIbrahim.
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Her father chose the name to honor the role the popular social networking site had played in the Tahrir Square revolt that brought down Hosni Mubarak’s thirty year rule at the beginning of 2011.The Egyptian people used Facebook to coordinate demonstrations and to shareinformation during the protests, and the gratitude toward the social network felt by JamalIbrahim, the father of little Facebook, was widespread. During demonstrations, some protestersmarched with signs that read “Thank you, Facebook” in Arabic or carried posters featuring a picture of Mark Zuckerberg digitally alteredto show him holding up a message of support to the protesters.
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 A wide range of media outlets went so far as to label the uprisings in Egypt as theFacebook Revolution, but their praise may have been hasty and overblown.
 New Yorker 
writer Malcolm Gladwell tried to stop any lionizaton of social networks after news media began to push the story following the failed demonstrations in Iran in the summer of 2009. Gladwell argued that online media and social networks could not produce the kinds of connections required for successful activism. Activism and revolution require passion and
1
Tsotsis, Alexia. “To Celebrate The #Jan25 Revolution, Egyptian Names His Firstborn ‘Facebook.’”
Tech Crunch
2
Stopera, Matt. “‘Thank You, Facebook’ Protest Sign.”
 BuzzFeed.com.
3
Rachman, Gideon. “Reflections on the Revolution in Egypt.”
 Financial Times
. (2/14/11).
4
Hauslohner, Abigail. “Is Egypt to Have a Facebook Revolution?”
Time
5
Pfeffer, Anshel. “Facebook Revolution.”
 Haaretz 
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loyalty to others in the movement characterized by strong ties. Gladwell does not believe thatthe nature of social media and online communities allow them to be bent to this purpose.The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is atool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the peopleyou would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That’s why you can have athousand “friends” on Facebook, as you never could in real life.
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The weak ties of social media cannot galvanize protesters to risk their lives on barricadesor to face down police barrages. Gladwell feared that praise of weak tie networks would blur further the line between true commitment to a cause and the easy, low risk contributions fostered by Facebook fan pages soliciting donations. The lack of hierarchy and accountability in diffusenetworks, Gladwell hypothesized, would prevent them from ever being truly effective. Gladwellconcluded glumly that online activism was eroding respect for the kind of advocacy that makes adifference.[T]here is something else at work here, in the outsized enthusiasm for social media. Fiftyyears after one of the most extraordinary episodes of social upheaval in Americanhistory, we seem to have forgotten what activism is.
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Gladwell’s salvo did not shift the opinions of the headline writers or journalists whocontinued to credit social media for social change. His attack did not move ordinary citizenswho, according to a Pew poll conducted at the end of 2010, still believed the internet was a powerful force for protest and activism. Sixty-five percent of respondents who used the internetfor any purpose agreed that the internet had a major effect on the ability of groups to organize
6
Gladwell, Malcolm. “Small Change: Why the Revolution will not be Tweeted.”
The New Yorker 
7
Ibid.
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