This week I gave a couple a couple talks at Rutgers University. I was invited by Dr. Kurt Shock, who is an associate professor of sociology and global affairs at Rutgers and is one of ICNC’s academic advisors. I first spoke in his colloquium course, where I gave a presentation titled, The Social Revolution: Digital Media, Cyber-Pragmatism, and Nonviolent Movements, which I will outline in greater detail later in this post. The second presentation I gave was to his undergraduate class on social movements, where we looked at the role of the internet and social media in social movements more broadly. In both presentations I used the uprising in Egypt as a case study in exploring these themes.
The social revolution presentation focused on three main areas, as is clear in the title. When looking at digital media I spoke about the evolution of information sharing, the emergence of social media platforms that challenge the traditional, top-down media structure, how social media is increasingly feeding mainstream media and how this changes the kind of information we get and how we get it.
The second theme I explored was that of cyber-pragmatism – the idea that the Internet has no moral code and hence can be used to a movement’s benefit or to its detriment, depending on how organizers understand its utility (or lack thereof) given the context of the struggle, and how savvy they are in leveraging its strengths. I talked about how cyber-pragmatism has emerged from scholars, thinkers, and writers who have been placed in various camps as being either cyber-utopians or cyber-pessimists. Somewhere in the middle of this conversation lies cyber-pragmatists. I then looked at some specific examples of nonviolent social movements that successfully utilized the Internet and digital tools in their struggle – 1,000,000 Voices Against the FARC campaign in Colombia, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, and the Egyptian uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak.
Lastly, I looked at nonviolent movements and how both new media and cyber-pragmatism are both spreading ideas about how to wage nonviolent struggle and then giving those contemporary struggles more global prominence as their stories and narratives emerge organically from the social media world. They all reinforce one another. I also outlined some basic theories, strategies, and principles that have been learned form past nonviolent movements and how they are closely related to the same transformation of power structures currently underway in the media landscape and the capacity for bottom-up struggles to define their movements for themselves.
In the undergraduate class we did a human spectrum exercise, where I asked students to stand up and move to either side of the room depending on how they responded to a set of questions and statements. The first question I asked was, “Which has more power – a gun or a video camera?” This tapped into their ideas of power behind tools used by armed struggles vs. tools used by nonviolent struggles and how those kinds of power differ. The second statement was, “Facebook is an effective tool for organizing a movement – agree or disagree?” This tapped into what they see as the pros and cons of social media platforms and online social networks for actually generating on the ground direct action. The last statement was, “the Internet benefits movements more than it does the governments or power structures they are resisting.” This tapped into the cyber-utopian vs. cyber-pessimist debates.
Anyway, check out the presentation if you want learn more.