Tag Archives: activism

Ello: The Luxury Bicycle of Social networks

A Budnitz Bike in its natural habitat.

A Budnitz Bike in its natural habitat. Source.

Paul Budnitz describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur” having created other companies that make artisanal toys and luxury bicycles. He’s also the creator/founder/president/charismatic leader of Ello. And when a social network launches with a manifesto that proudly proclaims “You are not a product”, there’s more on the line than embedded video support. Despite the radical overtures of the initial launch, we shouldn’t expect any more from Ello than we would from a luxury bicycle. (more…)

The Cost of Opting Out

Image from The Atlantic Cities, Flickr user Bikoy under Creative Commons

About this time last year I asked our readers, “why we don’t criticize other things like we criticize the internet?” It seemed like a fitting topic for the season; we utilize some of the most resource-intensive technologies at our disposal so that we may enjoy egg nog with old friends or taste grandma’s famous Thanksgiving day turkey. Everyone wants to be near their loved ones for the holidays, and so begins a massive effort to transport ourselves in cars, trains and planes until we arrive at our optimal holiday season arrangements. It is a wonder, then, why we spend so much of our lives outside of this optimal arrangement. What kind of relationship do we have with our immediate surroundings? Not just the people, but the technologies and the patterns. There is a lot of excellent work on carbon footprints, local food movements, and walkable communities but I hear comparatively little about who is capable of making this transition. What does opting out of the status quo truly entail?  (more…)

#TtW12 Panel Spotlight: Manufacturing Dissent

This is part of a series of posts highlighting the Theorizing the Web conference, April 14th, 2012 at the University of Maryland (inside the D.C. beltway). It was originally posted on 4.2.12 and was updated to include video on 7.11.12. See the conference website for

Any study of politics is going to be fundamentally about power, and about who is free to exercise it and how: How policy is made, how the public sphere is constituted and how boundary lines are drawn around it, who has a voice and who is excluded from

Presider: Sarah Wanenchak

discussion or consideration, who is central and who is marginalized. By the same token, the study of contentious politics – as it focuses on dissent and protest – is fundamentally about how those who have been marginalized, denied a voice, and left without power act to seize the things that have been denied them: How activist communities form and frame themselves, how their objectives and tactics change over time, how they seek entry into the public sphere and engage the actors they find there, how the voiceless find a voice and what they use it to say. Moreover, it’s about what is visible and recognized: How we understand political action in light of what’s gone before and what might come in the future.

All of this would be complex enough without communications technology, and what this panel highlights is how technology changes and enriches this already-complicated picture. Communications technology has the potential to change what we understand by “public sphere” and how we construct meanings around events, as well as how different collective actors organize and react to each other. If knowledge and information are vital to the development of a social movement, then understanding how knowledge and information flow is additionally vital.

Given recent and ongoing global protest movements, the intersection of technology and protest is a subject both broad and deep. Rather than attempt to capture all aspects of it, the excellent papers in this panel call attention to more tightly focused corners of the political picture, and in so doing, illuminate further potential avenues for research and exploration. Additionally, the geographical and cultural focus of this panel is truly diverse, allowing us to push back a bit against the American-and-Eurocentric bias that appears too often in research of this kind.

Titles and abstracts are after the cut.


Viral Charity’s Simple Problem: The case of Kony 2012

One of the numerous memes inspired by “Kony 2012″

Viral media saw an interesting development last week with Invisible Children’s release of its “Kony 2012″ film, which at the time of this writing has garnered well over 75 million views as well as storms of heated criticism. One could practically write entire books on the issues that Invisible Children raises – both intentionally and unintentionally – in this campaign, but for the purposes of this post I want to keep the focus fairly narrow and trained on the actual components of the video that make it successfully viral – and what that potentially indicates about how information regarding especially complex issues is diffused, as well as what difference that form of diffusion makes.


Limbaugh’s Social Media Problem

Rush Limbaugh is experiencing an advertiser exodus, and social media is playing a big part.

It’s the kind of story that writes itself. A popular media entity, on one of the oldest forms of electronic mass media, bears the brunt of activists’ Facebook wrath. It combines two old rivalries: liberals and conservatives and new media versus old media. In case you missed it, here’s the brief synopsis of events from ABC news:

Rush Limbaugh remains in big trouble. Advertisers – 11 at last count – are pulling spots off his radio talk show because of the reaction to his calling Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute.” Opponents are mobilizing on social media for a long campaign to try to convince even more sponsors to drop his program. Ms. Fluke herself has rejected as insufficient Mr. Limbaugh’s attempts at apology

Fluke had testified before congress about the importance of “the pill” for medical uses beyond birth control. Rush concluded that she was having so much sex that she needed the American tax payer to help defer the cost of her contraceptives. (This has led to some speculation that conservatives don’t know how hormonal birth control works.) Thousands of people are organizing to get advertisers to pull their money out of Rush Limbaugh’s show, and many of them are organizing via Twitter and Facebook. Will we be subjected to another round of technologically deterministic news stories about “cyber revolution,” or are we going to have a more nuanced conversation? More precisely, does Rush have a social media problem or has he -all things being equal- just gone too far this time? (more…)

Technoscience As Activism Conference


From June 27-29 I will be hosting (throwing?) the Technoscience as Activism Conference in Troy, NY. We are currently accepting abstracts for conference presentations and workshop proposals through March 15th. The conference is sponsored, in part, through Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s 3Helix Program funded through the National Science Foundation’s GK-12 fellowship. The conference will focus on community-situated design and look for new approaches that interweave social justice and science/technology. Participants are also encouraged to submit full papers for potential inclusion in a special theme issue of the open-access journal PscyhNology. Conference participants will be expected to participate in both moderated panel sessions on the PRI campus as well as hands-on workshops held throughout the Troy community. There are two goals of this conference: 1) To facilitate the free exchange of ideas across multiple boundaries on the topic of technoscience as activism and; 2) offer an experimental alternative to the traditional role/format of academic conferences. This new experimental format includes active collaboration with the geographically-defined community that hosts the conference. (more…)

The Future of the #Occupy Movement (in Memes)

With police dismantling Zuccotti Park and other #Occupy encampments throughout the country and impending Winter weather, pundits and activist alike are asking: Does the #Occupy movement have a future? To survive, #Occupy must begin—and, in fact, has already begun—a tactical shift. However, before I attempt to discuss #Occupy’s future, let me first be clear: The #Occupy movement is already a success. Recent months have witnessed a radical shift in mainstream political discourse, where concerns over America’s widening income and wealth gaps now have near equal footing with the deficit-reduction agenda. It has become common knowledge that the top 1% receive roughly a fifth of America’s collective income and control a third of the wealth. More Americans view Occupy Wall Street favorably (35%) than Wall Street (16%), government (21%), or the Tea Party (21%); and, though the country is gripped by a state of general cynicism, more people hold unfavorable impressions of big business (71%), government (71%), and the Tea Party (50%), than of #Occupy Wall Street (40%). Put simply, #Occupy is the most popular (and least unpopular) thing we’ve got. (more…)

Panel Review: “Information Politics in the Age of Digital Media”

Information Politics in the Age of Digital Media

Discussant: Deen Freelon, American University

  • “Internet Infrastructure: ‘Access’ Rhetoric, Neoliberalism, and Informational Politics” (Dan Greene, University of Maryland-College Park)
  • “Academic Marginalization in the Age of Social Media” (PJ Rey, University of Maryland-College Park)
  • “Social Media and Revolutionary Movements: Toward Research and Activist Agendas” (Mina Semeni, Randy Lynn, and Jason Smith, George Mason University)

This panel explores some of the opportunities for theoretical development and synthesis emerging at the intersection of public sociology and digital media. True to the conference’s remit, each focuses on a distinct form of publicity of interest to publics outside the academy. Dan Greene questions the prevailing neoliberal rhetoric of access to information technologies, arguing that it facilitates the concentration of power and prevent us from connecting related struggles for individual and collective emancipation. As a corrective, he proposes a frame he calls “informational politics” that overcomes this conceptual weakness by explicitly recognizing the links between digital media and the social contexts within which they are used. PJ Rey invites us to reconsider the roles of newer forms of scholarly communication such as blogs and tweets in evaluations of academic productivity. Journals and conference proceedings, which still enjoy preeminence among tenure criteria in most fields, are far too slow, costly, and obscure to effectively relay the fruits of public sociology to non-academic publics. Finally, Mina Semeni, Randy Lynn, and Jason Smith are interested in how activists use social media in contexts of social protest and revolution. In an attempt to move beyond totalizing and causal theories of the Internet and politics, they propose two mechanisms through which social media might abet protest: by increasing social capital and by strengthening existing institutions. (more…)

Chat: Debating Augmented Reality With Zeynep Tufekci

There has been some terrific debate on my theorizing of what I call “augmented reality.” In brief, I reject “digital dualism”, the tendency to view the on and off line as separate spheres, and instead argue that we should view them as enmeshed, creating what I call “augmented reality.” [I talk more about this here.]

Today, I am posting some of the debate that occurred over Twitter and another post responding to a critique of a talk I gave on the topic.

One criticism has been that the augmented reality perspective somehow obscures the important ways in which the on and offline are different. I agree that the spheres indeed have different properties. I write here and here about, for example, how atoms tend to be more scarce than bits. Further, I write here about how these important differences are best viewed through the augmented lens.

It is this last point which I feel is most important in responding to the specific criticisms given by Zeynep Tufekci over Twitter. It is my hope that future conversations on this topic take into account the points made in that short essay. I’ll post the debate, still ongoing, below.


Recap: Social Media and Egypt’s Revolution

The protests in Egypt have been front and center in the American media over the previous two weeks.  We were greeted with daily updates about former President Mubarak’s grasp on power, and, ultimately, his resignation.  Buried in all the rapidly unfolding events were numerous stories about social media and its role in the revolution.  I think it may be useful to aggregate all these stories as we begin to analyze how important social media was (if at all) to the revolution – and, also, whether the revolution has significant implications for social media.

As a prelude to the unrest in Egypt (and Tunisia) several cables conveying communications between US diplomats and the State Department were leaked to Wikileaks.  The connection between these leaks and the protests in Tunisia was covered in the Guardian and the Village Voice.  Journalists, ever eager for a sexy headline, quickly labeled Tunisia “The First Wikileaks Revolution.”  The cables also brought global attention to “routine and pervasive” police brutality under the Mubarak regime, giving increased legitimacy to dissident groups.

After Tunisia’s President Ben Ali fell, unrest quickly spread to Egypt.  Largely unprepared to cover the event, the Western media was forced to rely on Twitter feeds (as well as Al Jazeera) as a primary source for reporting.  (For an excellent analysis of the most watched Twitter feeds see Zeynep Tufekci’s “Can ‘Leaderless Revolutions’ Stay Leaderless: Preferential Attachment, Iron Laws and Networks.”) (more…)