SOCIAL
MEDIA
REVOLUTIONS


Social Media Revolutions Uday Dandavate September 5th, 2011

The year 2011 marks sudden awakening of popular sentiments against authoritarian and corrupt regimes in Middle East and North Africa. Protests have occurred throughout the region, including Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestinian Territories, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Western Sahara, Yemen and more recently in India. The role of social networks like Facebook and Twitter in organization of recent uprisings against corrupt and or authoritarian regimes has become a matter of great interest amongst sociologists. Many of these uprisings are being hailed as Facebook revolutions or Twitter revolutions. Wael Ghonim, a marketing manager for Google, played a key role in organizing the January 25 protest at the Tahrir Square in Egypt by reaching out to Egyptian youths on Facebook. Speaking at the international One Young World summit in Zurich he said, “My prescription for a revolution driven by social network is to make it leaderless. If you want to use the Internet to change a problem you are facing or create an opportunity for a lot of people, you have to make sure that everyone is engaged. It's not only important that you have a cause, it's important to make sure that that cause is not centrally managed by a small bunch of people.” More recently In India, Anna Hazare’s youthful followers have also proved themselves savvy in using the social media space, including Twitter and Facebook in their fight against corruption. Though recent mass movement against corruption in India is termed by the critics as a movement of urban middle class, Team Anna has been able to generate enormous political groundswell in small towns and villages of India. It appears that activism on the Internet, especially on the social networks is igniting an inferno promising to take down corrupt and autocratic regimes around the world.

Malcolm Gladwell, a Canadian journalist and a best selling author of books like “Tipping Point”, “Blink”, and “Outliers”, has recently triggered a passionate debate online by challenging the enthusiastic claims of social scientists who maintain that with the advent of social media the traditional relationship between political authority and popular will has been upended, making it easier for the powerless to collaborate, coordinate, and give voice to their concerns. Gladwell argues that social media is not a revolution but just a starting point for people to find information, learn and have the opportunity to make a considered choice about whether they should get involved in a cause. He asserted his point of view while speaking at the Ringling College Library Association Town Hall lecture series, “Social media such as Facebook and Twitter have create so-called “weak ties” — acquaintanceship rather than deep personal connections — that are more useful for job searches than revolutions. Successful revolutions and movements, he believes, have their roots in years of deliberate planning and strategy among small groups of people united by the "strong ties" of trust and deep knowledge of one another. It is a fact that social networks have played a big part in getting the youth to express their frustrations and coordinate their actions. However, there is a message for the revolutionary youth participating in these protests in Malcolm Gladwell’s words of caution. The euphoria and connectivity enabled by the Social media will not serve well in building a sustained movement of committed citizens who share a vision of an alternative social or political order. Social Media revolutions may trigger mass protest, which may also lead to displacement of governments. However, the change sought by the revolution will not materialize unless concurrently public discussions about alternative visions for the future take place and an organization is put in place for implementation of the vision. The current wave of protests in North Africa and Middle East is a second wave of revolutions of global significance since collapse of communism in Europe between 1989 and 1992. After the collapse of communism in Eastern

Europe, though European countries adopted varying forms of market economy, and many Communist and Socialist organizations in the West turned their guiding principles over to social democracy, Europe’s struggle for ideological clarity about a sustainable model of governance continues. I believe that postrecession world is ready to question the globalized, liberalized and capitalistic model of development. Current wave of mass movements (and the recent riots in London) are indicators of the failure of the capitalistic model and widening chasm between classes. Almantas Samalavicius, an associate professor in the Department of Architectural Fundamentals and Theory at the Vilnius Gediminas Technical University in Lithuania refers to the breakdown of old political structures and ideologies and the need for reconstruction of aims and ideas of social democracy in a post communist space in his blog, “The present financial crisis of world capitalism, with all its side effects, should lead us to a reconsideration of recent neoliberal policies – and also of the social practices that Europe has experienced since the fall of the Iron Curtain…. No one in Eastern Europe today, outside of a small number of individuals, has any trust in social democrats, who have proved to be corrupt, unjust, and too willing to sell off the social state to the powers of the global market…. the era of traditional party-making and party politics might be approaching its end, and that new ways of pursuing policy and political decisions are slowly emerging. If this guess is tight, it is a hint that socialdemocratic parties all over Europe need to be reconstructed, to become less rigid and more fluid broad civic coalitions, capable of finding their allies among numerous alternative grass-roots movements and other civic initiatives, no matter how small they seem to be at the moment. …Perhaps the time has come to reconsider the ideas and social criticism provided by such thinkers as Ivan Illich, Lewis Mumford or E.F. Schumacher, who once tried to make us understand the roots of the failure of modern society and its institutions”. Ivan Illich, introduced the concept of a convivial society as a society that confers on individuals freedom realized in personal interdependence and, as such, an intrinsic ethical value. He believes People need not only to obtain things (as in a market driven society), they need above all the freedom to make things

among which they can live, to give shape to them according to their own tastes, and to put them to use in caring for and about others. I envision future societies to be comprised of individual citizens driven by conscience, empathy and creativity. Trust, reciprocity and strong networks of interdependent relationships will characterize a convivial society of the future. In this background Malcolm Gladwell’s analysis of the inherent weakness of online social networks needs to be recognized and be compensated for through direct action for building deep personal connections. Just expressing dissent through Facebook and Twitter, and merely organizing public demonstrations will not help translate the energy unleashed through initial bursts of protest in the streets into a systemic framework for a new society. The need of the hour is to harness the enthusiasm and patriotism of the youth to cultivate new mindsets, and to mobilize organizations and communities for long-term transformation. As suggested in Almantas Samalavicius’ blog, the new structure would not be monolithic nor be driven by a single ideology. Rather, it would be a “long tail” of grass-root level movements. The economic theory of “the Long Tail” is drawn from the idea that our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of "hits" (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail. As the costs of production and distribution fall, especially online, there is now less need to lump products and consumers into one-size-fits-all containers. (Chris Anderson in Wired Magazine)

Long Tail economic model helps me foresee a new framework of governance conducive to incubating local ideas and institutions each catering to local conditions replacing one-size fits all ideologies. Individuals in a convivial society of the future will need to embrace a new mindset. Every individual will need to learn from and be respectful of the laws of nature and assume responsibility for collective good. For a long time modern civilization has been driven by cravings for superiority over other species, over

nature and over other classes of people. Our selfish pursuit of wealth, power and happiness has made us confrontational. In this pursuit we have destroyed our environment, escalated conflicts in the society and lost our ability to experience harmony within us and with our surroundings. Nature did not set human specie on a confrontational course. We were designed to live in harmony with our surroundings. An interesting experience opened my eyes to some of the innate harmonizing abilities human beings are endowed with, but have lost track of. Over twelve years go I was attending a workshop on Aikido conducted by Wendy Palmer. One of the exercises we did during the workshop left a profound impression on me. Wendy asked the workshop participants to stand in pairs facing each other. She then asked one person from each pair to push his/her partner. Some of us in the group pushed back the persons pushing us. A few people from the group stumbled back on the ground and a small number of pairs continued to push each other until Wendy asked them to stop. Then she introduced a new rule. She said the person who is being pushed should concentrate on maintaining his/her balance. “When your partner pushes you, do not push back, and make sure that you do not fall back. Just try and stay balanced on your feet.” She had us repeat the exercise. To our surprise, regardless of how strong a person pushing the other person was, all of us continued to stand straight and balanced. After trying hard, the persons pushing the partners gave up. Wendy explained. “It takes very little energy to maintain one’s balance. Pushing someone hard and pushing back involves a lot of energy. That is why, when the focus was on maintaining balance, even the strongest in the workshop was not able to throw the weakest person off his or her feet.” In this physical experience I realized we waste a lot of energy pushing people around or in being a push over. This experience truly opened my mind to Aikido as a physical metaphor for resolving conflicts in "real life." Aikido has been described as a "A martial art for peace..." Morihei Ueshiba, Aikido's founder invented it as a way of achieving harmony with Ki. Ki is an old Japanese word. It involves letting go of the conflict

we perceive in the relative world around us and in us and becoming aware of the infinite stillness of the absolute world where there is no other. It involves developing capacity for connecting to others in a compassionate, authentic way that enriches life and nourishes the spirit. In Aikido there is a belief that an attacker is no different from the defender, who by following the attack, entering in or turning around it, can guide the aggressor into a fall, away from harm. In the Aikido Journal, summer 1997 Mark Binder explains the spirit of Aikido, Most of us have been raised in a practical machine age. Power is measured in megawatts, in megabytes, in chip speed, and in bank balances. We are only just beginning to understand the idea of "hara," of centering oneself regardless of the circumstances. In the practice of Aikido you are protecting yourself, but you are also protecting your attacker. It is as if a favorite uncle has too much to drink at a wedding, and gets into a fistfight. No one wants to hurt the uncle, and no one wants the uncle to hurt anyone else. So, the student of Aikido steps in, and uses the least amount of force to protect the Uncle from hurting himself, and anyone else. He would envelop his attacker, bringing the aggressor gently to the floor with soothing words, "Are you ok? It looked for a moment like you were going to fall." The philosophy behind Aikido resonates with my curiosity for harnessing untapped human energy, intuition and imagination. It makes me respect those who continue to live closer to nature and draw upon the native wisdom and their innate capacity for resonance with nature. Thomas Edison, the inventor of electric bulb, best expresses the connection between non-violence and evolutionary imperative “Non-violence leads to the highest ethics which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages.” The path of non-violent transformation followed by Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, the revolutionaries in Egypt and recently by Anna Hazare in India will ultimately help us find a sustainable model of development and help rid our system of corruption. Revolutions may begin on Facebook or Twitter but they will be sustained through participation of people committing to work with each other in the real world on the basis of shared values.

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