Social Media: The Fists of Facebook and Twitter

Brenda Cooper @ 21-09-2011

I’ve been using social media as long as it’s been around, and thinking more about how powerful it is since Egypt. Here’s a mythical overview of the Arab Spring:

Once upon a time, there were people at the top of various countries who kept their power because they had the resources to control whole populations in the form of money, guns, and other tools such as state religions. These were old men who had held power for a long time, and jailed and sometimes killed people who opposed them. Perhaps some even thought they were doing good with their power, by keeping order. But the majority of their population, who were largely younger, disagreed. While they didn’t have power, they had communication. And they discovered what to do with it…. Continue reading “Social Media: The Fists of Facebook and Twitter”


Kick-offs, and kickings-into-touch

Paul Raven @ 07-02-2011

Just a quick one: among the folk among my Twitter cloud, this list of potential explanations from the BBC’s Paul Mason for “why everything’s kicking off” at the moment did the rounds maybe three times over the course of the weekend, and with some justification. A few highlights:

6. Horizontalism has become endemic because technology makes it easy: it kills vertical hierarchies spontaneously, whereas before – and the quintessential experience of the 20th century – was the killing of dissent within movements, the channeling of movements and their bureaucratisaton.

16. There is no Cold War, and the War on Terror is not as effective as the Cold War was in solidifying elites against change. Egypt is proving to be a worked example of this: though it is highly likely things will spiral out of control, post Mubarak – as in all the colour revolutons – the dire warnings of the US right that this will lead to Islamism are a “meme” that has not taken off. In fact you could make an interesting study of how the meme starts, blossoms and fades away over the space of 12 days. To be clear: I am not saying they are wrong – only that the fear of an Islamist takeover in Egypt has not been strong enough to swing the US presidency or the media behind Mubarak.

A minty-fresh blast of optimistic air, there. Well, James Nicoll is oftn quoted as saying “whenever I find my will to live becoming too strong, I read Peter Watts”; in a naked remix thereof, I’ll say that whenever I feel my chest swell with optimism about current events, I read Bruce Sterling. Here’s the Chairman’s point-by-point besnarking of Mason’s list; by way of balance, two highlights:

4. They are not prone to traditional and endemic ideologies: Labourism, Islamism, Fianna Fail Catholicism etc… in fact hermetic ideologies of all forms are rejected. (((Unless you count Birtherism and climate-denial as hermetic ideologies, ’cause they are)))

14. In addition to a day off, you can “mix and match”: I have met people who do community organizing one day, and the next are on a flotilla to Gaza; then they pop up working for a think tank on sustainable energy; then they’re writing a book about something completely different. I was astonished to find people I had interviewed inside the UCL occupation blogging from Tahrir Square this week. (((Revolution of the Dilettantes! Good luck getting these multitasking mayflies to govern anything.)))

I remember asking Sterling in an interview I ran here a while back what made him feel positive about the next few decades, and I quite deservedly got my own naive arse served to me on a plate*:

I don’t even do “positive” and “negative” potential. I sincerely think that attitude makes people actively stupid about the future.

[…]

History is what it is. Major change-drivers, true historical forces, they have little to do with people’s innate need for pep-talk. If you want to help people deal with futurity, you need to think talk and act in a way that clarifies the situation — not within mental frameworks that are dystopian, utopian, miserabilist, hunky-dory, apocaphiliac, Singularitarian, millennialist… wishful thinking just isn’t serious thinking. We’re wishful about the future because it hasn’t happened yet, but the future is history. Tomorrow is quite similar to all the other days in history, with the quite small difference that it’s personally happening to us.

Anything that’s got “potential” has always got some positive and negative potential. Otherwise it’s not even “potential.”

I try hard to live that lesson these days. Some days, of course – especially in difficult times – you just want to feel a little bit better about tomorrow. Which is fair enough, I guess, so long as you stay aware that it’s just soma, and don’t smoke the stuff 24/7…

… athough, of course, that’s probably the sound of me arguing in favour of my own mental crutches.

[ * I actually got off lightly; I don’t remember where I saw it, but someone was talking about having interviewed Sterling and asking him at the end “was there anything I missed?”, to which Sterling replied “no, you asked all the usual questions”. Ouch. ]


Daddy, what did you do during the Currency Wars?

Paul Raven @ 25-11-2010

China and Russia drop the dollar for bilateral trade; Brazil and India may be next [via MetaFilter]. Southern Europe may well riot in response to fiscal austerity [via BigThink], and here in the UK it’s only taken six months of having the Tories back in power before the police started to club children with batons.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Making a game of disruption politics

Paul Raven @ 22-06-2010

More from John Robb: rewiring agitprop and non-violent protest movements as open-source games.

… in modern western societies, this elite group and their specialists are able to dissociate themselves from jobs when it comes to their private lives.  They live unencumbered within our impersonal society.  This window of vulnerability creates a yawning opportunity for innovative forms of disruptive non-violent protest.  One that pierces the organizational and societal veil of anonymity for these individuals by turning them into systempunkts (vulnerable nodes within the targeted organization’s network that would cause the most damage if disrupted).

Essentially, if you can successfully deter/coerce individual decision makers in this decision making group, you will win (and quickly).Early work on this type of protest can be seen in the work of 4Chan’s Anonymous and China’s human flesh search engine. Both of these open source movements have shown to be surprisingly powerful at targeting single individuals (and poor at disrupting organizations).

An aside: I find Anonymous fascinating, because (whether deliberately or not) they’ve created a fluid non-identity that can be picked up by anyone anywhere for any purpose. It’ll be one of those names that haunts the sidebars of news sites for decades, if not longer… and there’s always the possibility of a schism or interfactional split, which should be fascinating (and doubtless horrific and hilarious) to watch from the sidelines.

But back to Robb:

… any online group of sufficient size could launch an effort like this.  However, to really zoom the effort and turn it into a coercive tool, one modification should be made.  It should operate as an online game.

Well, pretty much everything else operates as an online game, even democracy itself. [/snark] More seriously, though, using the reward structures of games to entice people toward certain real-world behaviours has been proposed (and put in to action) by others, and has a certain resonance not only with the times we find ourselves in, but also our nature as homo ludens. Indeed, Robb himself proposed a kind of real-life Farmville to spread permaculture farming, but I suspect the amount of real physical work needed to achieve those sorts of goals will deter all but the most tenacious.

That said, science fiction writers got there first: Stross’ Halting State, and Walter John Williams’ This Is Not A Game, for instance. Maybe human society was always a game, and we’re only now waking up to a fact that politicians and uber-entrepreneurs have always understood instinctively?


The summit of security: fortifying Toronto for the G8/G20 meetings

Paul Raven @ 18-06-2010

Regardless of your personal politics, it’s hard to look at the extensive preparations for summits like the G8 and G20 groups – both of which are meeting near Toronto in Canada at the end of the month – and not be dumbfounded by the huge amount of money that gets pissed away on “preparing” for them.

Tim “Quiet Babylon” Maly takes a look at the “media pavilion” that’s been constructed for the world’s journalists to lounge around in, complete with simulated lakefront ambience and local rural flavour, and there’s a bunch of links at MetaFilter talking about the extensive fortification of the town against the inevitable floods of protesters – up to and including the removal of street-side trees and saplings, lest they be used as weapons (yes, seriously).

Maly makes much of the parasitic nature of these conferences, beaming in and completely subsuming a location for the duration of the summit, and that’s certainly one weird aspect of the whole business. But weirder still, at least to my eye, is the sociopolitical nature of the thing: here’s a meeting of powerful people who are ostensibly discussing ways to make the world a better place, and they have to defend themselves from political dissent to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

That’s the sort of budget that most dictatorships can only dream of, all spuffed away for a week or so of hermetically-sealed political secrecy and security for the allegedly democratic governers of the civilised world. There’s something deeply paradoxical – I might even go so far as to say “fucked up” – about that; defending oneself from external enemies is one thing, but any governmental organisation that spends that much money on protecting itself from the people it ostensibly looks after is doing something very, very wrong.


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