film production + social action



Social Media and Political Change: A Discussion with Clay Shirky and Anne-Marie Slaughter

by @ChristieM

Like most people out there, I rarely ever watch live streams after they have happen, or a completely unedited panel discussion as they are usually long, wordy, and – let’s be honest – boring.

But this one is worth your time.

The video below is an hour long Foreign Affairs discussion on the role of social media and technology in fostering political change, with Clay Shirky, Professor of New Media at New York University and the author of Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Director of Policy Planning for the State Department. Every piece of this was worth listening to.

Since we at Righteous Pictures spent some time this week brainstorming for our upcoming doc, WEB, this was a great discussion to get my brain juices flowing.

Please watch the video yourself, but if you don’t have an hour, below are the highlights.

 

Clay Shirky says that the power of the Internet (and mobile phones) empowers and mobilizes people in three ways:
1. It makes massive amounts of information quickly available
2. It provides amateur’s access to communication tools for speaking out
3. It allows groups to coordinate their activities rapidly.

We overestimate the Internet’s ability to give us access  to endless information, and we underestimate it’s ability to connect humans to each other.

The key to supporting Internet freedom is not in reducing censorship of information, its about allowing for better group coordination by using these tools.

Social Media is NOT something that can be easily weaponized. (Umm could Al-Qaeda please get on Foursquare already??)

Anne-Marie Slaughter says that online tools and connective technologies allow people to
1. Synchronize opinions
2. Coordinate meet-ups
3. Document and share their results

Coordinating with weak ties through your Facebook “friends” does not create political change. It is using these tools to mobilize your strongest ties, the people who trust you, and in turn get them to mobilize their strongest ties.

The Internet Freedom Speech was the most important speech Anne-Marie says she worked on. In this speech the U.S. stated that everyone in the world should have:
1. The freedom to connect to the Internet itself
2. The freedom to connect to any information they want
3. The freedom to connect to PEOPLE.

Calling the events in the Middle East a “twitter revolution” is unhelpful and demeaning. It was the people behind these tools that facilitated change.

You cannot be a modern, working country without cell phones. And once you add cell phones, you are essentially handing people access to information, connection and freedom.

The amplification of Libyan voices made the events impossible to ignore, BUT it wasn’t until there was physical threat that other countries intervened. Pictures, videos and testimonials posted online just helped facilitate that. Unfortunately, crimes against humanity are being committed in areas where there isn’t as much connectivity and we may not know about them until it too late. It is a tragic effect of the digital divide.

Which begs the question…as information technology spreads, are we will likely to see more atrocities, and if so will we do MORE interventions?

According to Anne-Marie, the answer is yes. Libya has set a precedent in some senses. Clay chimed in saying that we should wait to see how it turns out to see if a precedent for intervening has been set.

While connective technologies have allowed individuals and groups with no formal affiliation or organization to coordinate and support one mission, such as overthrowing the Egyptian government, it creates a new problem. The leaders of the revolution are not of one ideology. So in the 21st century we are seeing what happens when a government is overthrown and there is no new government (which in the past has been the leaders of the revolution) ready to step in.

I think the most important thing we all need to remember is that the Internet has allowed for the creation of TOOLS. And it is the HUMAN use of these tools that has sparked the revolutions. As Clay said, it was the educated, underemployed, angry, repressed in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya that used these TOOLS to pursue deeply held political goals. Not Twitter, and not Facebook.

What do you think?

One Response Subscribe to comments


  1. Foreign Affairs

    Thank you for the great post! If your interested in seeing shorter video highlights of Foreign Affairs LIVE, you can visit our YouTube page.

    http://www.youtube.com/user/ForeignAffairsMag

    Foreign Affairs

    Apr 07, 2011 @ 12:55 pm

Reply