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Decline ‘Friend’ Request: Social Media Meets 21st Century Statecraft

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By Cyril Mychalejko
Upside Down World
January 16, 2012

A Senate report released in October 2011 urging the US government to expand the use of social media as a foreign policy tool in Latin America offers another warning for activists seduced by the idea of technology and social media as an indispensable tool for social change.

In this past year as the world witnessed uprisings from Santiago to Zuccotti Park to Tahrir Square, social media has been lauded as a weapon of mass mobilization. Paul Mason, a BBC correspondent, wrote in his new book published this month Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions, (excerpted in the Guardian) that this new communications technology was a “crucial” contributing factor to these revolutionary times. Nobel peace laureate and Burmese human rights campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi pointed out in a lecture in June that this “communications revolution… not only enabled [Tunisians] to better organize and co-ordinate their movements, it kept the attention of the whole world firmly focused on them.” CNN even ran an article comparing Facebook to “democracy in action”, while Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who was imprisoned in Egypt for starting a Facebook page told Wolf Blitzer that the revolution in Egypt “started on Facebook” and that he wanted to “meet Mark Zuckerberg some day and thank him personally.”

While the positive contributions of technology to social movements and uprisings have been been amply noted, if not overstated, more attention needs to be paid to the intrinsic dangers looming in the co-optation of this technology-driven networking, specifically by Washington, but by other repressive governments as well.

Clay Shirkey, professor of New Media at New York University, wrote in the January/February 2011 issue of Foreign Affairs that “the state is gaining increasingly sophisticated means of monitoring, interdicting, or co-opting these tools.”

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Written by Maidhc Ó Cathail

January 20, 2012 at 12:41 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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