[Air-L] viral reality?

John Postill jpostill at usa.net
Tue Feb 1 03:52:03 PST 2011

On the subject of Egypt's and other country's protests, I'm currently doing
anthropological research into social media and activism in Barcelona. I'm
wondering whether we're entering an era in which political reality is framed
by re-sent SMS messages, retweets, YouTube videos, viral campaigns, and so on
– an age of 'viral reality'. Even those who rightly reject the hyperbole
surrounding these events would appear to be shaped in their perceptions by
rapidly moving, ephemeral digital contents that are widely 'shared' (i.e.


Dr John Postill
Senior Research Fellow
IN3, Open University of Catalonia
Senior Lecturer in Media
Sheffield Hallam University
j.postill at shu.ac.uk

------ Original Message ------
Received: Tue, 01 Feb 2011 12:57:17 AM CET
From: "Julian Hopkins" <reach at julianhopkins.net>
To: <air-l at listserv.aoir.org>
Subject: Re: [Air-L] ISOC Statement on Egypt's Internet shutdown

> I don't know the extent of the censorship of the mainstream media in Egypt,
> but I think it is quite extensive. From my experience living in Malaysia, I
> can say that the role of online media in spreading alternative voices and
> reporting events that would otherwise be suppressed is significant. It is
> easy, for well educated people living in a country with a free press, to
> forget how difficult it would otherwise be to learn about matters that
> inconvenience those in power.
> For example, in a recent by-election here, it was reported that "Many,
> especially in the more rural areas" did not even know of the existence of
> the opposition coalition - the Pakatan Rakyat
> (http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/155001). Another example is how parts of
> speech  by an opposition member in the state assembly of Sarawak were
> omitted from the official report of the proceedings (Hansard) - the speech
> was about a suspicious land deal connected to the state Chief Minister's
> family (http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/155022).
> Malaysia has a vibrant online alternative media (though the government
> to be looking at extending repressive laws that govern printed media to
> online non-print media, the loophole that has allowed online news
> organisations to continue to exist). Twitter, Facebook, and blogs are used
> by all sides in the political debate. Without these, news and opinions
> still spread (through SMS, email, word of mouth), but it is faster online
> and there are verifiable sources - or at least a fixed place somewhere
> the information is located and associated with a person or organisation.
> With regards to Egypt, it's also relevant to note that the first major
> demonstration was launched through a Facebook group. The usefulness of
> Facebook and Twitter in the logistics of organising large groups is, in my
> opinion, probably its most significant contribution in an immediate sense.
> Notwithstanding what I have said above about the importance of information
> diffusion.
> Al Jazeera, which is first and foremost an Arabic news channel, is no doubt
> very important too.
> Therefore, while I agree that CNN et al overplay the importance of social
> media in 'causing' these popular unrests (not to mention Wikileaks), it's
> important not to understate the significance of social media either. 
> Cheers,
> Julian
> ++++++++++
> Blog: www.julianhopkins.net
> Twitter: @julianhopkins
> Skype: julhop
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