[Air-L] Arab spring & social media evidence

simon collister simon_collister at hotmail.com
Sun Sep 18 09:51:34 PDT 2011

Apologies if this has already been posted but I felt Dan McQuillan's paper from earlier in the year is a perfect response to John's analysis, and definitely worth sharing:

New Social Networks with Old Technology - What the Egyptian Shutdown tells us about Social Media - 

Egypt is the latest in a series of countries to witness the 
powerful potential of modern social media to catalyse and mobilise 
people around social issues. The Egyptian government response was to 
have the internet and mobile networks completely shut down. This was, 
however, not the end of the role that social media ideas played in the 
events that followed. People inside and outside of Egypt collaborated to
 re-create the missing networks using the still-available technologies 
of landlines, dial-up and ham radio.

This paper argues that this use of 
pre-digital technologies to form the kinds of infrastructure afforded by
 modern social technologies is evidence of a radical change in people’s 
perceptions of their world and its connectedness. Social media has 
constituted a real change that goes beyond specific technologies. This 
flies in the face of many sceptical critics who argue that new 
technologies only reinforce old practices and social structures.

This view of the effects of social media 
presents a challenge to its study. Technological studies and formal 
analyses of relationships inscribed in social networks will never be 
able to capture fully the way people understand and interact with these 
technologically-enabled structures.

In this paper, I use the internet 
shutdown in Egypt to raise issues that I believe need to be considered 
in analysing the influence of social media on social movements. I 
discuss how existing models need to become hybridic, heterogeneous and 
responsive to the grassroots appropriation of technology, especially the
 future creation of alternatives to the corporate internet. In 
conclusion, I analyse the phrase 'Egypts Facebook Youth' as the emblem 
of social media's impact.

www.simoncollister.com | http://twitter.com/simoncollister

> From: j-laprise at northwestern.edu
> To: air-l at listserv.aoir.org
> Date: Sun, 18 Sep 2011 16:52:35 +0300
> Subject: Re: [Air-L] Arab spring & social media evidence
> The most compelling finding for me based on discussions with my students and people in the region is not found in the PITPI report. The most compelling and generalizable IMO finding relates to participator behavior, especially when connectivity is turned off. Heavy content participators who consume and produce content, are unwilling to accept state limitations on their ability to participate and in fact choose other means if blocked. When Egypt shut down it's Internet, participators did not simply stop participating. Having developed a participatory inclination through the frequent use of communication technology, they sought to continue their participation when that outlet was limited. In practice, this resulted in unexpected vectoring of information as activists disconnected from technology resorted to more traditional communication methods e.g. knocking on the door of their neighbor. Participatory neighbors activated their less participatory (and likely therefore less info
>  rmed) neighbors leading to a broader public mobilization outside what might be expected out of technological (and possibly economic) channels.
> I'm still struggling with the language as my gut instinct is actually to characterize heavy participators as addicts who suffer withdrawal when the state limits access and who then seek out substitutes.
> The reason why I find this so compelling is that I suspect that this is likely true globally, not just in revolutionary situations. For some, online participation is so important that finding themselves with limited access they find a replacement for it. The Arab Spring provides evidence of the powerful societal effects that this behavior can have.
> Best regards,
> John Laprise
> Visiting Assistant Professor in the Communication Program
> Northwestern University in Qatar
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