Last week I very briefly touched on the concept of citizen journalism being a way of getting around traditional news media’s tendency to depict war as tame and unobtrusive for the sake of maintaining public support. Today I would like to discuss this a little further and connect it back to idea that the ability to illustrate the true nature of things is facilitated by global networks, convergent technological flows and the rise of social platforms. Not only that but social media has become a way for revolutionists to come together, organise operations and share their messages on a mass scale with little barrier to entry.
Prior to the Vietnam War all the information that everyday people could obtain about war came from mainstream media channels like newspapers and radio, there simply were no other mediums and the general public was given a highly mediated, white washed version of events. By this I mean propaganda campaigns that harboured wide spread support and a sense of patriotism.
“By the mid-1960’s, television was considered to be the most important source of news for the American public, and, possibly, the most powerful influence on public opinion itself” Erin McLaughlin For the first time the public were seeing war first hand. The horrors entered people’s living rooms and in between school, work and dinners, anyone could watch villages being destroyed, Vietnamese children burning to death and soldiers in body bags. For obvious reasons this created mass opposition to the war and widespread protests. Fast forward to the now and you will see that news corporations, who jump through hoops for the hand that feeds, take every precaution not to make that mistake again.
The news coverage of war today paints a story reminiscent of early propaganda campaigns, with the us versus them mentality and imagery of merry marching soldiers doing little more than hanging out in barracks and pressing buttons on fancy war machines. Gordon Mitchel explains how the introduction of smart weaponry allows for a controlled way of marketing war to the public that is alienated from the direct reality of the battlefield. “Bombardiers wielded hand-held Nintendo-like devices that help pilots guide precision weaponry and computerized navigation aids to make their way to their targets – not real locations but map coordinates displayed on a VDU”…”there was little to distinguish the coalition pilots’ experience from training runs made in simulation machines”.
The problem with legacy media is “you’ve got to be silent, to be spoken to- passivity is the logic of that technology” (Richard Senett). Luckily for us we live in an age where you do not just have to rely on monolithic media for your information. We have the internet where information flows freely and citizens upload imagery of war and injustice every day, the truth is out there you just need to look. The ability to do this is a direct result of technological convergence. Convergent mediums have allowed for mobilisation, coordination and dissemination to take place which has in turn has given people, who would otherwise not have voices, the freedom to broadcast messages not in sync with the official agenda. The mobile aspect of modern technology means that people can bring their devices with them capturing things as they unfold and staying connected to the web. The coordination aspect means platforms like FB and Twitter can facilitate revolution by giving activists a place to come together and plan action at great speed and across distance. The dissemination aspect means that messages from individual nodes can be broadcasted to the masses without difficulty and the extent of the spread is massive in scale.
When all these elements come together to create a hive of connectivity the capability emerges for small individuals to enact large change. However simply having the ability to do does not guarantee it will happen, you need to have the right influencers, the right cause and circumstances where action is achievable at a local level (think globally act locally). But when this does happen it gives individuals the power to change the world, Arab Spring is a perfect example of this.
When Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest over harassment from city officials, the local news media sprouted the message that he was merely a psychopath. None the less his death sparked attention all across the globe when the true story was shared across the net and began fueling outrage. The same again occurred when Khaled Mohamed Saeed was beaten to death and the Egyptian government claimed he died of chocking.
By this point protest had already begun to rage but a turning point in the series of events occurred when young blogger Asmaa Mahfouz made a video pleading people to stand up for their rights and take a stand. In this video, that went completely viral, she set a date which germinated the hashtag #Janury25. From there YouTube channels emerged such as Free Egypt where content from the protests could be catalogued and publicly shown. Facebook became a breeding ground for activist communities to form and legitimize and when the Egyptian government cut its people off from the internet, Google and Twitter joined forces giving Egyptian citizens, isolated from the rest of the world, the ability to share their stories globally.
While this all occurred from the right combination of people and events, it is no doubt that technology played a part in shaping the outcomes. This is pure example of the power that connected technologies can bring and proof that networked systems always beat monolithic ones.