Sunday, December 4, 2016

How Facebook hurt the Syrian revolution

"Erica Chenoweth, a professor at the School of International Studies at the University of Denver, has argued that social media is helping dictators, while giving the masses an illusion of empowerment and political worthiness.
At a recent lecture at Columbia University, when asked for an example where social media played a negative role in a social movement, Chenoweth paused a little to finally say, 'what comes to my mind now is Syria.'
Indeed, social media hurt the Syrian uprising. It gave the Syrian people the hope that the old dictatorship can be toppled just by uploading videos of protests and publishing critical posts. Many were convinced that if social media helped Egyptians get rid of Hosni Mubarak, it would help them overthrow Bashar al-Assad.
It created the false illusion that toppling him would be easy and doable."

I'll have to ponder this a while.  I would assume Syrians would know more about their country than what they read on Facebook and not be swayed by information that contradicts their on-the-ground knowledge.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Deray McKesson on activism

"I love Twitter. I think about Twitter as the friend that’s always awake. It’s why I tweet so much. I’m interested to see which of the platforms will be the first one that allows people to build skills. Right now, mostly, it’s about information sharing. We haven’t seen a platform really be [about] skill building, so I’m hoping that’ll come next. It’s been interesting to see Snapchat grow and change, [and] I think that in the coming years we’ll see that. I’m not one of the people who is a Twitter doomsday person. I think that we’ll see the golden days of Twitter ahead.

I think that we have to be open to new ways of organizing and new ways of building community. I’m mindful that we aren’t born woke, something wakes us up, and for so many people, what woke them up was a tweet or a Facebook post, an Instagram post, a picture. I never criticize people who [others] deem to be Twitter activists, or hashtag activists, because I know that telling the truth is often a tough act, no matter where you tell that truth. I think that’s important. I think that we’ll continue to see the platforms push and redefine the way we organize.
In terms of the new organizing, you think about how you can use people on Slack and mobilize them, you think about how we can spread messages on Twitter. I think that we’re just at the beginning of seeing the power of technology to really push in the social justice and the equity space. I think that moving forward in terms of what the solutions look like, I think we’ll see platforms like Twilio be really important. I think we’ll see these sort of quieter, seemingly, platforms take a primary role."

This is a great Q&A for a prominent activist of our time, reflecting on how technology works for activism, and what needs to be done to move forward from here.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Why do some protests work while others fail?

"One of the most consistent answers I got was that protesters should realize that protests aren’t enough. There’s a real risk of catharsis being the start and end of the resistance to Trump: Protesting feels good and righteous, but if nothing comes after then it may not accomplish that much. It’s key, therefore, to understand the limits of protests and to put them in a broader activism context. 'There are some people that think that protests solve everything; you just have a protest, it’s going to make everything change,' said Fabio Rojas, a professor at Indiana University and the author of From Black Power to Black Studies: How a Radical Social Movement Became an Academic Discipline. 'That’s not true — it is a tool that does a very specific thing, and you have to understand that when you start out.'
Protests are effective — sometimes very effective, in the case of big ones — at drawing attention to a given cause, and all else being equal they have an impact. 'There’s a lot of research showing that there is an effect of protest on policy,' he said. 'If you protest rather than do nothing, that does seem to attract attention, and that does seem to make institutions lean in your direction.' But beyond that, it’s important, Rojas said, to have a clear sense of what a given protest is for.' What are you really trying to accomplish with a protest? Are you trying to influence a specific policy? Are you trying to build solidarity within the movement? Are you trying to persuade people who are watching the movement, or even trying to persuade people on the other side of the movement?'”

What to protest about and what to do along with protesting seem to be 2 key parts of success.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Does social media have a downside during revolution?

"During the heady days of revolution, social media seemed to unify Egyptians across disparate ideological trends around a limited, shared goal. That didn’t last. As time went on, social media encouraged political society to self-segregate into communities of the like-minded, intensifying connections among members of the same group while increasing the distance among different groups."

"The mobilization of fear was concentrated more in the politically activist communities than in the broader public. One of the most striking findings in the statistical analysis is the extremely low incidence of “fear basket” terms in the Couch Party cluster. Contrary to the common portrayal of Egypt as a society consumed by fear and chaos during this time, the apolitical group was not consumed by fear, or at least not talking about it on Twitter. Instead, fear basket terms seem to be most found within the activist cluster and the Islamist cluster, the most politicized of the groupings."

So people form cliques.  I see this every day on social media.  But I guess that's their point - what happens to a revolution when the cliques start forming?  Can you still maintain a revolution or is this a sign of the end?

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Did Occupy Wall Street accomplish anything?

"While critics of Occupy took issue with it at the time for its lack of specific demands, a clear organizational structure or strategies for next steps, it has come to resonate politically, said Heather Gautney, a sociology professor at Fordham University.
She pointed to Sanders' campaign, saying Occupy's injection of income inequality into the discourse paved the way for the Vermont senator's calls to get money out of politics, rein in Wall Street banks and provide free public college education.
Nicholas Kiersey, a political science professor at Ohio University, said Trump's political presence is part of Occupy's impact, as well.
'If Bernie Sanders represented a left-wing popular suspicion that had felt all of a sudden very legitimate in expressing its grievances, Trump, I think, represents the mirror of that from the right,' he said. 'They both, in a sense, have ridden the momentum of popular dissatisfaction.'"

The concentration on the 1% vs. the 99% came from Occupy Wall Street.  that is built into our political discussion now.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

How Bahrain stopped the Arab Spring there

"As the months went by, the Bahraini government went about methodically silencing voices of opposition and discontent. Today, there are practically no opposition figures still free. Professor Valeri says that the regime really started to crack down in earnest after the legislative elections in 2014.

'Up until 2012, world powers like the United States and the United Kingdom were pressuring Bahraini authorities to reform. But after 2012, the US and the UK were under the impression that the Arab Spring movement in Bahrain was over [Editor’s note: The Arab Spring movements that took place in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya had all managed to unseat their dictators by this point] and that all that was left of the struggle were small skirmishes going on in some of the villages. The diplomatic tone changed and these governments started saying that Bahrain would undergo reforms but that it would be a slow process.

Then, in 2014, the US and the UK started pressuring the opposition al-Wefaq party, the main Shiite group in the country, to participate in the legislative elections. Al-Wefaq was trapped. If the group participated in the vote, it would cut off its electoral base, which wanted more radical reforms. However, if it refused to participate, then then it would be accused of standing in the way of reconciliation. It ended up choosing the second option. The Bahraini government took it as a go-ahead to carry out a widespread crackdown on the legal opposition.'"

Saudi Arabia sent in vast numbers of troops to stop a peaceful protest.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Is inconveniencing others a method for successful protest?

"So remember, the next time a demonstration stops your evening commute or gets loud outside of your office window, protesters are not hoping to raise your awareness or tug at your heartstrings. They are teaching you of the deep political importance of being inconvenienced, and helping you to get used to it."

The author kind of meanders a bit, but the main point is that inconveniencing others is a great method for forwarding your Just and Important Cause.  She gives examples of the current pipeline standoff in North Dakota, where Native Americans are trying to block an oil pipeline to protect their water, and the takeover of a lot next to the notorious Homan Square police station in Chicago.  These I would actually agree with, since they are directly confronting the group that is their concern.

But I strongly take issue with using this tactic to, say, shut down a major street corner in some city, where the geographic location and the people thus inconvenienced have nothing to do with what you are protesting.  Wise protesting is very much tied up with not only your message, but in how you conduct yourselves and what you are doing.  Your message is MUCH more clear when you are protesting at a location that points to your object of concern, when you are doing something that relates to your concern, and when you act in a way that shows you are respectful of your audience (that being everybody that you want to sway to your side).  I fail to see how inconveniencing mere bystanders (and probably not even bystanders - simple ordinary people with NO connection to your cause) will bring anybody to your side, or make them want to listen to what you are complaining about.

Friday, August 19, 2016

How the Internet helped stop a coup, in 1991!

"The coup attempt collapsed on Aug. 21. Overall, during the three days, Relcom transmitted 46,000 “news units” throughout the Soviet Union and around the world. Regime No. 1 was a revolutionary idea, although not everyone realized it. Radio transmitters spread information in one direction, outward. But Relcom worked in both directions, spreading and collecting information. It was a horizontal structure, a network, a powerful new concept in a country that had been ruled by a rigid, controlling clique. In the 1950s, the first Soviet photocopy machine had been wrecked because it threatened to spread information beyond the control of those who ruled. Now the power of those rulers was being smashed—by a network they could not control.
Another principle was also demonstrated during the coup: The programmers did what they thought was right and did not ask permission. They acted because the free flow of information was threatened. They also knew that they had the support of thousands of subscribers, making the network stronger. The very first time the internet had a role in Russian politics was during the three days in August 1991, and back then it helped to crush the security services’ operation by undermining Kremlin’s monopoly on spreading and sharing information."

I got on the Internet in 1993.  Usenet became my home.  I still love the free communication of the Internet and have seen the power it has to help people organize.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Turkish coup plotters used WhatsApp, and we get to read and follow along

"A group of plotters of the failed Turkish coup attempt used a WhatsApp group to communicate with each other. Bellingcat has transcribed, translated, and analysed the conversation, thereby cross-referencing the messages with photos, videos, and news reports of the evening, night, and morning of July 15-16.
The transcript is composed of two different sources. The first source is a video which was uploaded to Twitter in the morning of July 16, and appears to show the conversation on the phone of a surrendered, captured, or killed coup plotter. This video revealed the WhatsApp conversation from its start at 21:15 to 22:45. The second source is 21 photos that show the rest of the conversation, has already been transcribed. The photos are courtesy of Al Jazeera Türk’s Selahattin Günday, and we are thankful that he was willing to share them with Bellingcat. We owe many thanks to “Has Avrat[1] for fully translating the transcript, as well as contributing to the analysis. All times mentioned are in the local time zone, which is EEST (UTC+3)."

wow.  I think this has to be the first time we can follow along with the coup plotters, and even see what they were doing via video.  This is an historically amazing record.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Did British intelligence attempt to derail the Arab Spring?

"In the fall of 2010, I was an early member of the AnonOps IRC network attacked by JTRIG and used by a covert GCHQ agent to contact P0ke, and in 2011 I co-founded LulzSec with three others. The leaked document also shows that JTRIG was monitoring conversations between P0ke and the LulzSec ex-member Jake Davis, who went by the pseudonym Topiary.
Through multiple sources, I was able to confirm that the redacted deanonymizing link sent to P0ke by a covert agent was to the website"

Well this is weird.  and sad.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Coup plotters; ignore the Internet at your peril

"Today, the TV and radio are not the only means available to get information to people. The Turkish putsch took over some TV stations and did the standard coup style announcement: “we’re doing this for you, blah blah blah.” But they failed to eliminate the Internet, and any blocking that they were able to do was ineffective. In no small part because the Turkish people have spent years learning how to circumvent the social media blockades that Erdogan has put in place at various times. This made the population resilient against attempts to mitigate the cyber weapons they deployed."

This is a really well done article.  It explains mainly that the Internet is a method of communication that must not be ignored.  

Thursday, July 7, 2016

How to "smarten up the hive mind"

"One reason that crowds mess up, he notes, is the hegemony of common knowledge. Even when people make independent judgments, they might be working off the same information. When you average everyone’s judgments, information that is known to all gets counted repeatedly, once for each person, which gives it more significance than it deserves and drowns out diverse sources of knowledge. In the end, the lowest common denominator dominates. It’s a common scourge in social settings: think of dinner conversations that consist of people repeating to one another the things they all read in The New York Times."

Solution?  Sort out who actually knows pertinent things and give their view more weight.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

"Assemblies of the Commons" in France

"After this festival, several Assemblies of Commons begun to emerge explicitly in Lille, Toulouse, Brest and several other big cities in France. It must be understood that these assemblies are all at the 'incubation' stage, and each of them is inventing its own operation as informal structures. For most, they met only once or twice.
They have a French wiki to document and exchange practices, and a website to communicate to the outside.
The main purpose of these assemblies is to be a forum to exchange experiences and bring together commoners. They also aim to promote the creation of an ethical economy that can create livelihoods around the commons. They try to identify and develop commons through mapping and meetings."

This sounds somewhat similar to Occupy Wall Street.  An embryonic idea to fix society when politics isn't working.

social media catches a vandal

"One post to the Yosemite subreddit caught the attention of Steve Yu, an investigator for the National Parks Service. Yu reached out to Schreiner, who shared his screenshots of Nocket’s artwork with the investigators. He also posted to the Reddit threads, where users began sending him evidence of Nocket’s graffiti.
Charles Cuvelier, the chief of the National Parks Service’s law enforcement arm, said that social media played a key role. 'When there are acts of destruction and you make them known at large through social media, that is a powerful tool of investigation,' he said."


"Some users started posting her home address, though others quickly chastised them. In an update to his Reddit post, Yu wrote: 'Please remember, EVERYONE in our society has the right to Due Process.'

For Schriener, stopping people from posting unverified personal information or abuse in the comments on his blog became a full-time job."

This is great, but the side issue of over-reaction is typical as well.  I don't know what can be done about the outliers who over-react, except what was done in this case, where the cooler heads try to reign them in.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

community groups work on collective action

"The basic idea is to harness the energy and actions of a wide range of charity and civic groups all at once, and find over-arching goals that can be accomplished more quickly and effectively than if such groups work on problems alone.
The Rapid City Collective Impact group was unveiled at a press conference Wednesday morning at which the group  presented nearly a year’s worth of research on social issues in the area.
Rapid City may be the first in the nation to use this relatively new approach to improve the city as a whole, according to initiative director Albert Linderman."

I can't believe this is a new idea, but I do heartily agree with it.  Community groups working together instead of just doing their own thing makes common sense.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Diversity makes your group smarter

"The fact is that if you want to build teams or organizations capable of innovating, you need diversity. Diversity enhances creativity. It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision making and problem solving. Diversity can improve the bottom line of companies and lead to unfettered discoveries and breakthrough innovations. Even simply being exposed to diversity can change the way you think. This is not just wishful thinking: it is the conclusion I draw from decades of research from organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers."

So much for the Master Race theory.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Wikipedia study; maybe anarchy devolves naturally into oligarchy

"One of their most striking findings is that, even on Wikipedia, the so-called 'Iron Law of Oligarchy'—a.k.a. rule by an elite few—holds sway. German sociologist Robert Michels coined the phrase in 1911, while studying Italian political parties, and it led him to conclude that democracy was doomed. 'He ended up working for Mussolini,' said DeDeo, who naturally learned about Michels via Wikipedia.
'You start with a decentralized democratic system, but over time you get the emergence of a leadership class with privileged access to information and social networks,' DeDeo explained. 'Their interests begin to diverge from the rest of the group. They no longer have the same needs and goals. So not only do they come to gain the most power within the system, but they may use it in ways that conflict with the needs of everybody else.'”

I haven't read the actual research article yet.  But this would be sad if true.  This "iron law of oligarchy" is new to me and bums me out.  But I think a way around it at times is to set a simple goal, and once the goal is achieved, disband.