Networked Revolutions: The New Form of Social Change

Is the Egyptian uprising a leaderless revolution? No opposition party controlled the call to action. No charismatic leader led the charge. No group stepped up to negotiate on behalf of the people.

In the most cogent analysis I’ve read, Charlie Beckett writes that in both Tunisia and Egypt the popular movements accelerated incrementally and “symbolic individual acts combined into collective movements.”

They are networked revolutions, a whole new form of social change building on the past but using new media to mobilize, expand and sustain change.

The case for citizen participation in media is strong in these movements.

Beckett says multiple tensions for social change were present including poverty, corruption, an educated, unemployed or underemployed young adult population, and growing economic uncertainty in the business community, among others. These daily indignities fed the movement and allowed it to catch fire.

Social media became a critical set of tools, complemented by live television and other media, including word of mouth, to voice this frustration. On Twitter, I followed shrewd, street savvy, brash organizers distributed across the city and nation who used social media to mobilize, provoke, and sustain pressure.

They also used these media to encourage perseverance and hold it together. They gave it new momentum and strength. Given this distributed leadership, Bennett says Tahrir Square gave the global audience a necessary focal point. Nadia El-Awady, a science journalist turned revolutionary, posted a moving first-person report from Tahrir Square after Mubarak vacated the Presidency.

This remarkable confluence of human aspirations and technology in Tunisia and Egypt have created new  paradigms for social change but there’s much more to learn.

Social media empower people. However, we can’t take this for granted. These media are held by corporations licensed by governments, and they control our access to information. We can be sure that those who control these levers are considering these issues today, particularly after Egyptian authorities attempted unsuccessfully to shut down the internet and social media.

Because of this, as fundamentally important as these two revolutions are to the Tunisian and Egyptian people, they are also important beyond the borders of the two nations. We’ve entered a new global media ecosystem in which the aspirations of people and their desire for a better life are intimately intertwined with the new media that give them voice and mobilize them to action. This ecosystem connects us beyond borders and through shared aspirations and universal rights.

Protecting citizen access and use of these media have never been more important. Mediactive by Dan Gillmor offers a solid case for both consumers of journalism and citizen creators of journalism.

Grassroots advocacy for net neutrality is curated at the activist site Free Press. Another section provides perspectives on a range of open internet issues.

(Note: I revised this post by adding the photo upper left, the Twitter screen grab and a sentence with a link to Nadia El-Awady’s Yahoo Story.)

2 Responses to “Networked Revolutions: The New Form of Social Change”

  1. Rich Buckley February 22, 2011 at 6:34 pm #

    Rev. Larry Hollon has helped bring the UMC into the new age of empowering the voice of laity within the Church. His influence will be regarded historically on par with the creation of a new hymnal for a new age.


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