From Vietnam to Arab Spring: Mediums Facilitating Revolution

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.

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“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.

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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”.

Vietnam War U.S. Casualties

 Sept 18, 1966 

 

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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.

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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.

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It’s All A Troll, Until Somebody Cries

Trolling is an Internet slang term used to describe any Internet user behaviour that is meant to intentionally anger or frustrate someone else. (Welcome to the dark side of the internet)

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C’mon I had to include Star Wars somewhere 🙂

The entire point of trolling is to wreak havoc on websites and to annoy, offend, shock, insult or humiliate others for the sake of a laugh. It seems nowadays that Trolling has become a widely accepted practice, due to the fact that it is everywhere. No matter where you turn, there’s always someone waiting behind the virtual corner to ridicule your online activities.

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Most of the time it is just all just fun and games, people being stupid for the sake of being stupid but sometimes it goes beyond that. Sometimes trolling goes too far. Remember when members of the hacktivist group Anonymous all signed into to Habbo Hotel, made identical characters and flooded the game, making it impossible for other people to get into the pool area?  I personally found that hilarious, trolling can be funny when nobody gets hurt, the problem is though, trolling isn’t always harmless.

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There is a growing trend towards hateful misogynist trolling and because of this women on the internet are being tormented, ridiculed and even threatened. It starts with those silly ‘get back into the kitchen’ and ‘make me a sandwich’ jokes but leads to so much more. Female journalists and bloggers have reported serious incidences where they have repeatedly been mooched or abused and even threatened violently or sexually, simply for being women who dare to voice their opinions on the internet.

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There have been cases where Trolling has been used as a form of psychological bullying. Jessica Leonhardt, formerly known as KerliGirl13 on YouTube suffered a severe mental breakdown after her attention-seeking behaviours in her YouTube videos caused her to become the target of a mass scale 4chan raid. People made fun of her, made parodies of her videos and threatened to beat her if she didn’t stop uploading annoying clips. She was only eleven at the time and was affected very strongly by all the negative hype surrounding her. Her Father reacted to this on you tube, only making things worse as his reaction became world famous and resulted in the creation of even more parody videos.

So what is it about internet culture that facilitates Trolling? The answer Anonymity. I have come to realise that people on the internet feel they have the power to say and do what they want as long as their identities remain unknown. With an anonymous identity people aren’t restricted by consequence and without restraints the worst aspects of their personalities shine through. I find it strange that a world like this exists online where people say things that would never be said in the real world. Like why is it socially acceptable to use derogatory language like gay or fag on the net, but not in real life? this is something I will never understand.

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One thing I do understand, however, is that Trolls do what they do in order to get a reaction. They feed off your anger, so the best way beat them, in my experience, is not to acknowledge them, they can’t troll you if you don’t let them.

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Pro-Anti Slacktivism

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It seems everybody these days has the potential to become a social activist. With convergence the way it is, all you really need is an issue and a smartphone.

With your Iphone in hand it’s easy to make that new campaign page on Facebook, spread your message on BlogPress, rally those supporters on Linked-In, organize that mass event on Twitter, record that protest you made and edit it into a hard-hitting, life changing, emotional masterpiece on Imovie and then upload it straight to YouTube where it can be streamed and shared to people all over the world.

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So in a way ,yes, it is true that apptivism (as I like to call it) “has the potential to transform the spontaneous outburst of demonstrations and renewed interest in the radical left into a coherent, highly organized and efficient movement” (Adam Waldron 2010), but at the same time, what we are seeing nowadays is not legitimate and effective activism but rather the creation of a passive ‘slacktivist’ culture in which people would rather like a Facebook page than actually go out and try to make a difference. Micah White argued in The Guardian that ‘digital activists’ promoting ‘clicktivism’ are endangering the very ‘possibility of an emancipatory revolution in our lifetimes’. This is something that I half agree with.

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The First thing we need to look at when examining the role of ‘digital activism’ is to look at the motives of those involved. When people support these causes are they doing it because they are legitimately concerned about the issue or are they doing to make themselves feel good about doing good. Maybe they want others to think their making a difference, or maybe they’re just pro-anti (supporting or going against something for the sake of supporting or going against it).

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The Next thing we need to look at is the level of impact ‘digital activism’ has. Is it really that effective? I mean yes, it gathers support for issues and yes it has the potential to generate mass awareness, but does it have the potential to generate actual change? Personally believe that yes it can, but at the same time I feel that no it doesn’t and this only because my personal experience with online activism has been witnessing a whole bunch of online communities discussing their concerns but doing nothing about them (This is called slacktivism). How does liking a page on Facebook or re-tweeting a link make a difference offline?

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Don’t get me wrong though, I do believe online activism has potential. Take the Occupy Wall Street protests for example, originally a protest encampment that started out with a few dozen students and unemployed university graduates. Within weeks it inspired thousands of New Yorkers to join, and spawned scores of similar protests around the country. (Click here for Source). And look at Kony 2012, that campaign literally took the world by storm, for a while it was everywhere; it was all everyone was talking about. There is no doubt that it raised awareness on a mass global scale and got thousands of people all over the world involved. However, I still am unsure of whether to call that campaign a success or not because I am still asking myself the question, what did it actually achieve. Other than inform people of an injustice, what political change did it make? and now a year later, no one is talking about it anymore, it seems to have just faded away without any real significance.

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In order for ‘clicktivist’ campaign to be successful I feel it needs to call people to action offline, not just gather support and awareness online, but I can’t deny that it’s a good start and I have no doubt that online activism could and will lead to some major social and political changes in the near future.

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