Monday, 27 August 2012

Power to the Online People!

The nice people whom sent me this and this have once again shared a lovely infographic on a subject close to my heart Internet activism. And this ones animated too!

"Where were you when news of the tsunami hit Japan in 2011? How about when Michael Jackson died? Probably online, according to many experts who claim that social media has become the main media source for hundreds of millions of people. Not just in the U.S., either; Facebook alone has more than 900 million users spread across the globe as of 2012. Other social media giants like Twitter have facilitated revolution against unjust leaders and warned people of impending natural disaster. In fact, so many people regularly interact online that if the Internet were a nation, it would exceed the Americas, Europe and the Middle East combined in population. No wonder more than 13 million members of the online community used Reddit and other media platforms to protest SOPA, a proposed Internet censorship bill. Keep this graphic in mind next time you log on, because knowledge is power — and a little knowledge goes a long way in the Internet Age."

Naturally as a blogger it shouldn't surprise to learn that I'm in general agreement with most of the points it makes. I'm afraid I'm not too familiar with the point about the AID's protein but this site has some interesting information on it. I have to say though it surprises and impresses me.

 My area of "expertise" as far as the internet goes lie in activism and what is now called crowd sourcing. I think sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo whilst far from perfect and often used to fund vanity projects will and are offering inventors and artist types whom for one reason or another have difficulty securing funding in our corporate/government dominated investment and development sectors.

And of course the internet has enabled charities and support groups to raise awareness and funding. Before the internet advertising was limited both in frequency and audience. Also the time delay between a situation occurring and a response being coordinated has been drastically reduced. Action alerts and emergency appeals can start raising funds for emergency almost as soon as they develop.

 And then we get to my bread and butter, activism. Naturally being a politically minded fellow living in a remote village in an oft forgotten province I do a lot of stuff online. I should also mention I do a lot in my community too its just that opportunities are more limited. Anyway its undeniable that the World Wide Web has opened up some breathing room for "Radical" thought and given small groups s set of tools to agitate and recruit.

For example I only became aware of the Morning Star after doing a research project on British Communist groups on the internet. Regular readers of this blog will know that's my favourite and only regular newspaper. And that paper has a nation wide circulation and an extensive network of supporters.

And of course since the 90's there has been a blossoming of internet news sites, radio and video channels all representing many different view points and areas of interest. The infographic to my left wouldn't exist without the Internet. Now of course there are some out there whom are rather cynical about the use of the internet, words like "slacktivism" have been thrown around. And I have to disagree, there's an old Anarchist saying that goes "If Voting ever changed anything they'd make it illegal" I agree with the sentiment but disagree with the example since you know a lot of nations have indeed made voting illegal and according to some American Republican State governments are attempting to limit access to the ballot boxes so if that statement is true voting must have an effect.

Despite that I do think a good measuring stick for the worries of the establishment is what they move to ban or restrict. And the internet has seen increased monitoring and many nations from USA to China, EU to Russia have been drafting legislation to restrict websites and online activities.

However I think it is important to mention some very important Caveats, if the internet is to have any value as a tool for change and human progress it can only do so if it inspires and motivates action. You can make hundreds of viral videos, tweet to a hundred thousand followers and have a million likes on Facebook, but if no one gets up and starts acting nothing will be changed. Lets take the Mubarak example to our left, 90,000 pledges is great but if it wasn't for the years of hard struggle by a core of activists and labour unions battling the security services and getting them to compromise and on rare but important occasions back down no one would of risked turning in to Tahrir Square.

Ben Ali of Tunisia didn't resign and flee because he was embarrassed that Wikileaks publishing of his expense accounts and shopping lists trended on twitter he left because those documents validated the arguments and struggles of dedicated opponents whom had been risking prisons and beatings.

There's also another rather dark problem with the internet in regards to activism. It is quite easy to spread misinformation. I'm thinking of Kony 2012 that brilliantly crafted propaganda video, now I have no love for Kony and at first I was pretty impressed that someone was trying to raise awareness of his banditry. Unfortunately it wasn't long before alarm bells started ringing. Denying that the Lord's Resistance Army had an ideology to keep them isolated from sympathy. Condemning the LRA for its wicked deeds, child soldiers, civilian deaths, torture whilst praising the Ugandan government whose army is guilty of much the same, and worst of all imploring the audience to get America to deploy troops to Uganda to "Stop Kony" even though the Ugandan army already defeated him and the LRA haven't been active in Uganda (where the film wants troops to be deployed) since 2005 making a deployment there useless if that was the intended goal.

Now that looks convincing doesn't it? remember a picture may be worth a thousand words, but there's no guarantee those words are accurate

But that isn't the only instance of a suspiciously manufactured viral campaign. I can remember several years ago when the US and Colombia where negotiating for a Colombian Free Trade Agreement and greater collaboration in the "War on Drugs" there was a big fuss made of the start of a Facebook "No to FARC" campaign, that grew into street demonstrations in Bogotá and other cities and still occurs every year. Several Liberal papers were touting this a momentous occasion that would signal the end of armed conflict and a damning indictment of the Guerilla movement. There are a number of problems with this analysis, first officially about 53% of the population have access to the internet. And in reality it is much lower because the population in areas ran by FARC are at best estimates. Second most of those whom do have regular access to the internet tend to be from richer backgrounds, and are therefore much less likely to have sympathy with the aims of FARC a Marxist group. Now that doesn't mean that their opinions don't count it does however mean that that population will have a natural bias on this subject. Third their experiences with FARC are not likely to be typical, the group is in control of territory and as such operates as a political and social entity in addition to its military activities. The wealthy urbanites of Colombia are very unlikely to have knowledge of these programs and if they have any experience with the group is in relation to its military operations which negatively impact there social group further limiting there objectivity.

In addition those particular marches were organised by groups known to support the government. And the government gave employees the day off and called on people to join them.

“We want to live in a country at peace, a country without kidnappings or violence,” President Juan Manuel Santos said in an address in the little town of Villeta in the central department of Cundinamarca.
“No one should stay at home, no one should stay in their offices, because we are all going to march with a single purpose, a purpose that unites us all: to say 'yes' to liberty and 'no' to kidnapping,” he said at an event late Monday, according to a presidential statement."

To me this is the equivalent of using the Orange Order marches in Glasgow and statements by the Conservative party (Or party of British Unity as it desperately tried to re-brand itself North of Berrick Upon Tweed) to make a statement that the whole of Scotland hates the IRA, or wants Ulster to be part of the Union. It could be true but the evidence presented doesn't bear that conclusion out, and in fact actually undermines it.

In summary, the internet is a tool that supports a means to an end, it is not the end in and of itself. It is also not impenetrable, governments and corporations  can and are increasingly active online doing their best to curb activism and information leaks.If we wish to keep the internet as a driver for human progress then we have to be wary of the dangers and warn other of them as well as trumpet there successes.

Infographic created by

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