Tag Archives: Egypt

#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.

(more…)

Ambient Documentation: To Be is to See and To See is to Be

We begin with the assumption that social media expands the opportunity to capture/document/record ourselves and others and therefore has developed in us a sort-of “documentary vision” whereby we increasingly experience the world as a potential social media document. How might my current experience look as a photograph, tweet, or status update? Here, we would like to expand by thinking about what objective reality produces this type of subjective experience. Indeed, we are increasingly breathing an atmosphere of ambient documentation that is more and more likely to capture our thoughts and behaviors.

As this blog often points out, we are increasingly living our lives at the intersection of atoms and bits. Identities, friendships, conversations and a whole range of experience form an augmented reality where each is simultaneously shaped by physical presence and digital information. Information traveling on the backs of bits moves quickly and easily; anchor it to atoms and it is relatively slow and costly. In an augmented reality, information flows back and forth across physicality and digitality, deftly evading spatial and temporal obstacles that otherwise accompany physical presence.

When Egyptians dramatically occupied the physical space of Tahrir Square this past January (more…)

Social Media and Our Atmosphere of Augmented Dissent

laptops at the #occupy protests

Mass collective action is in the air, on the ground, on the web; indeed, there exists today an atmosphere conducive for revolutions, flash mobs, protests, uprisings, riots, and any other way humans coalesce physically and digitally to change the normal operation of society. [Photos of protests around the globe from just the past 30 days].

Some gatherings have clear goals (e.g., ousting Mubarak), however. there is also the sense that massive gatherings are increasingly inevitable today even when a reason for them is not explicit (e.g., the ongoing debate over the reasons for the UK Riots or the current #occupy protests). For some this is terrifying and for others it is exhilarating. And still others might think I am greatly overstating the amount of protest actually happening. True, we do not yet know if this second decade of the 21st Century will come to be known for massive uprisings. But if it is, I think it will have much to do with social media effectively allowing for the merging of atoms and bits, of the on and offline; linking the potential of occupying physical space with the ability of social media to provide the average person with information and an audience.

For example, the current #occupy protests across the United States (more…)

TtW2011 Panel Spotlight: Augmented Reality

This is the fourth panel spotlight for the upcoming Theorizing the Web conference on April 9th. I’ll have the pleasure of presiding over a panel that focuses on how mobile web platforms are augmenting the world of bricks and flesh. Much more than an ethnography of Foursquare, this panel will explore our changing relationships to space and place, and the new ways public and private spaces are opening up as a result of this new augmented reality.

Presider: david a. banks

PJ and Nathan have done an excellent job on this blog of  articulating social media’s role in times of revolution, but this panel seeks to understand social media’s roll in a variety of instances. We will explore the cultural contexts that Social Networking Services (SNS) operate within, and what this does for old and new associations with (and within) place and society. From San Francisco hipsters to Chinese political activists, and from your local Starbucks, to the Second Life, social media is changing how we interact with our cities and our fellow citizens.

If anything unites these four panelists, it is their balanced perspective on the roll of digital media. Its easy to essentialize mobile computing platforms, or mistake computer mediated communication as anti-social. Without essentializing the technology, or romanticizing the past, these authors provide a balanced critique of what is happening in our cities and online. Read the four abstracts after the break  to learn more:

(more…)

Social Media and Social Movements

Given the recent events in the Middle East (and elsewhere, as protests continue in Wisconsin and ominous rumblings begin to issue from the direction of China) a great deal has been written in the past few weeks on the topic of social media and social movements/revolutions. Some of it has been a bit frothy, while much of it—including this, this, and this commentary on the Cyborgology blog—has been very insightful. However, while commentators have come at this issue from various angles, there hasn’t yet been much in the way of writing that seeks to wed an analysis of these forms of social action with existing theories of social movements and contentious politics.

The speed at which events have moved is a point on which a number of people have remarked. The wave of political anger expressed as protest that spread from Tunisia to Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, and points beyond has been likened to dominoes falling—or, and this is more appropriate to the point I want to make, to the spread of a contagious disease. Democracy, it has been said, has “gone viral”. (more…)

Egypt’s Liquid Modernity

Zygmunt Bauman (pictured above) provides a famous liquidity metaphor that I find infinitely useful for thinking about the Internet. My previous post on Wikileaks and our Liquid Modernity outlins how the Internet and digitality are making information more fluid, nimble and difficult to contain. Using the liquidity metaphor, I argue that WikiLeaks is an example of increasingly liquid and leak-able information.

I further argue that “heavy” structures need to become more porous; that is, allow for some amount of liquidity in order to withstand the torrent of contemporary fluidity. Julian Assange argued that his WikiLeaks project will cause governments to become more secretive, or, using Bauman’s metaphor, those structures become more solid and thus become washed away by seeming out of date to current, more liquid, realities. I believe we saw a scenario just like this play out in Egypt. (more…)

Augmented Revolution

Protesters charge their mobile phones in Tahrir Square in Cairo.

In my previous post on “Digital Dualism Versus Augmented Reality,” I lay out two competing views for conceptualizing digital and material realities. Some view the physical and digital as (1) separate, akin to the film The Matrix, or (2) as an augmented reality where atoms and bits are increasingly imploding into each other.

I prefer the latter, and want to apply this augmented paradigm to the revolutions occurring in the Arab world that have been taking place this winter as well as the subsequent debate over the causes. I, like many others, am equally frustrated by those who give either all or none of the credit for these uprisings to social media tools and argue instead that what is occuring is an augmented revolution.

On one side there are those that promoted the phrase “Twitter revolution” during (more…)

Cyborgology Editors Talk Social Media in the Middle East

Maryland Morning host Sheilah Kast interviewed Cyborgology editors Nathan Jurgenson and PJ Rey about social media’s role in the recent protests in the Middle East.  Here’s a brief synopsis:

Citizens of countries throughout the Middle East were risking their lives to air grievances against their rulers long before Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg even enrolled at Harvard nine years ago. This year, though, they’ve taken to the streets in unprecedented numbers, and they’re using social media to organize themselves.

The phrase “Twitter Revolution” is now being thrown around in the media. Is that overstating it? Or is social media fundamentally changing the dynamic between governments and their citizens?

Listen to the full interview: http://mdmorn.wordpress.com/2011/02/18/218112-social-media-in-the-middle-east/

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…)

Harassmap: User-Generated Resistance

While many write about the various ways that the Internet makes us less safe, namely cyberbullying or being attacked by someone you met on Craigslist, it is also important to look at the new possibilities the web creates to ease suffering occurring in the physical world. When the Cyborgology editors recently spoke to WYPR about cyberbullying, we also discussed cybersupport, as is the case of Dan Savage’s It Gets Better YouTube project. The folks at WYPR also pointed us to another interesting example, the Egypt-based Harassmap created by a group of volunteer techno-activists. According to this report [.pdf], 83% of Egyptian women and 98% of female travelers to this country report being harassed. Given the very limited legal recourse for women in Egypt, this online tool is one way to provide voice to the vulnerable.

The map above is a screen-shot from the Harassmp site. Women in Cairo can report incidences of sexual harassment from their mobile phones via text message. The incident that occurred in the physical world is then digitized as a plot on the map using the phone’s GPS. This provides the masses a reality now augmented with a digital layer that seeks to “act as an advocacy, prevention, and response tool, highlighting the severity and pervasiveness of the problem.” The story of social media is not just how it harms people, but also how it helps.

View the map here. More information here (scroll down for English).