For an assignment for Internet Communications, we were asked to find 4 articles on certain case studies. I chose Twitter and Political Protest as my topic. Below are 4 articles and a critic on each for you to ponder.
Heather Brook released a book in 2011 called “The Revolution will be Digitised” and was interviewed by Katie Scott from www.wired.co.uk about how “the interconnected age in which we live allows us to do is instantly connect with each other” (Scott, 2011). Brook is an advocate of social media networks being a communication revolution.
Brook discuss’ how the Internet has decentralised power and given the people an alternative way to challenge the gatekeepers and establishments who withhold information from the general public (Scott, 2011). She also tells of how close true democracy is with the help of social media networking and how it connects people who normally couldn’t be connected in the past, especially when it comes to specific issues (Scott, 2011). It is in real time that people can now connect with each other to discuss, organise and collaborate together around issues such as Government policies in their own countries, as well as Government policies in countries around the world.
Brook also mentions how Government bodies are learning to look at social networks and how politics is shifting away from a top-down centralised hierarchy (Scott, 2011). This means the shift in power is moving towards the people, and many authority figures are having a tough time dealing with this transition. Some in fact are trying to control the Internet, for example in Iran in 2009 during the post election protests where Iran authorities tried to shut down access to Twitter. But “sympathetic observers outside Iran [had] set up “proxy” servers that relay Twitter content into Iran through network addresses that [hadn’t] been blocked yet” (Grossman, 2009).
This interview with Heather Brook is just one persons opinion on how social networking is revolutionising the way people can discuss, organise and collaborate on political issues from all around the world, and in most cases in real time. Her book “The Revolution will be Digitised” also contains case studies on Bradley Manning (a US Army solider) and Julian Assange (Wikileaks) and their exposes on the information war.
“Social Media is allowing much greater opportunities for individuals to find others to share their concerns, which has already led to major changes in Government policy” (Rundle, 2011).
The new word on the street for those who take part in political protests using online social media such as Twitter are being dubbed as “Clicktivists”. These Clicktivists can start a campaign with a simple hash tag, finding others who share the same concerns and ideas about a political event happening anywhere in the world (Hayes, 2012). This can often lead to the organisation of a traditional protest where these concerned users meet as a group.
Social media is shifting the way in which people understand politics all over the world. It is empowering people to take action, and disallowing Governments to hide and control what is released in traditional media. Twitter allows users who are “on the ground” experiencing events first hand to tell their side of events as they happen in 140 characters (Hayes, 2012). Other Twitter users can “reTweet” these messages, respond directly back, or even start a protest against the injustice to the Human Rights of the people who are experiencing the event. Twitter is allowing the freedom of speech for those who have access to the Internet.
But Social Media isn’t bigger than the law. Users aren’t completely invisible and can be traced by police, just like protests in the past. There is always the chance of arrests.
This article shows both sides of the coin of social media protests. People showing support can either be heavily involved or just simply share a Tweet of interest. This piece has some interesting arguments for both the pros and cons of “Clicktivism”.
3. Twitter use in Iranian, Moldovan and G-20 summit protests presents new challenges for governments – Lindsay Ems Indiana University
In this paper Lindsay Ems studies three case studies in regards to the use of Twitter among protesters during three distinct political events during 2009 in Iran, Moldova and the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He talks about how traditional media create “frames” of information that are distributed to the public (Ems, 2009). Social networking platforms, such as Twitter, now allows us to consume as much or as little we want about certain political events, and share it with others. We can join in with the protests from anywhere in the world and learn more about the civilian life in the areas where the people are fighting their Government through protest.
In the three case studies presented in this paper Ems states that “in Iran and Moldova the elections were deemed fraudulent by many and Twitter was used there by dissenters as a tool in protesting the results of these elections… [The] G-20 summit protesters used Twitter primarily to avoid police blockades in the streets of Pittsburgh” (Ems, 2009). Twitter was also used as a source for images, video and stories by mainstream media.
“The way in which Twitter is used during political protest may alter the nature of the challenge for these Governments” (Ems, 2009). Moldova Government was faced with many complex challenges. In the G-20 summit, the US responded with police force and even arrested Elliot Madison, who was using Twitter to alert protestors of police locations around Pittsburgh (Ems, 2009). Where in Iran, the government took out communication networks to silence their people. It’s not certain, according to Ems, that the use of Twitter during these events made the impact like traditional protests of the past.
4. Twitter Free Iran: An Evaluation of Twitter’s Role in Public Diplomacy and Information Operations in Iran’s 2009 Election Crisis – Alex Burns and Ben Eltham
The actions from the Iran Government and authority agencies (the Basij) along with the US State Departments, were either trying to censor the people of Tehran or, the in the US State Department’s case, observing the ‘chatter’ on Twitter from Iran as an “important source of public source intelligence” (Burns & Eltham, 2009, p. 299). The US State Department requested that Twitter delay a server update to ensure Iranians had maximum access to the service (Pleming, 2009). The US interest in the developments during the Iran election protests to me seemed a selfish decision, as they were more interested in developing their own information operations, rather than the Human Rights of those protesting in Tehran.
The Iran authority agency, Basij, played the role of containing mass protests that were gaining international attention. They used aggression against these protestors, which lead to many civilian deaths (Burns & Eltham, 2009, p. 302). The shooting of Neda Agha-Soltan that was captured by a bystander on video was posted to YouTube, which went viral. “Iranian police and media responded to the massive viral popularity of the YouTube video by contending that Agha-Solton’s death had been staged by foreign agencies for propaganda purposes” (Frontline, 2009). None the less, events similar to these were happening all around Tehran during the protest period.
“Those who championed the role of Twitter to spur the anti-regime social movement failed to understand … the possibility that Iran’s “violence specialists” in its security apparatus would use Twitter to identify and hunt down pre-democracy protesters” (Burns & Eltham, 2009, p. 306). Iranian Twitter users under estimated the ability that the Basij had to identify, locate and kill them to silence them (Burns & Eltham, 2009, p. 306).
As you can see that after reading the conclusion of this paper, it makes you realise how easy it is to be tracked down and silenced for using online tools for protests. This makes me rethink any future involvement in political protests against Governments unlike our own here in Australia.
Burns, A., & Eltham, B. (2009). Twitter Free Iran: An evaluation of Twitter’s role in Iran’s 2009 election crisis. Record of the Communications Policy & Research Forum 2009 , 298-310.
Ems, L. (2009). Twitter use in Iranian, Moldovan and G-20 summit protests presents new challenges for governments. Indiana University. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University.
Frontline, P. (2009, November 17). A Death in Tehran. Retrieved December 23, 2012, from Frontline PBS: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/deathintehran/etc/synopsis.html
Grossman, L. (2009, June 17). Iran Protests: Twitter, the Medium of the Movement. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from TIME: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1905125,00.html
Hayes, P. (2012, January 1). Social Media is Rejuventating Poltical Protest. Retrieved December 2012, from Debating Matters: http://www.debatingmatters.com/documents/DM_TopicGuidesClicktivism.pdf
Pleming, S. (2009, June 16). U.S. State Department speaks to Twitter over Iran. Retrieved December 23, 2012, from Reuters: http://www.reuters.com/article/rbssTechMediaTelecomNews/idUSWBT01137420090616
Rundle, M. (2011, September 5). Online Activism Comes Of Age In UK As 38 Degrees Find Their Voice. Retrieved December 23, 2012, from Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/07/05/online-activism-uk_n_890128.html
Scott, K. (2011, August 18). The Revolution will be Digitised. Retrieved December 23, 2012, from Wired: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2011-08/18/the-revolution-will-be-digitised?page=all