Check out this article at the New Yorker. Read it all the way through. It will be worth your while. [via Slashdot]
The author challenges the assertion that social media can foment and hasten social and political change in a society. The author contrasts the loose ties of “networks,” with the structure of “hierarchical organizations” and examines how each of these function to illustrate his point. He also cites examples from American history – the fight against segregation, and the movement to end the Vietnam War. Segregation was not defeated because people got together to merely say it is wrong. They undertook boycotts, sit-ins, and protest marches. The Vietnam War did not end because millions of people just professed the belief that it should. Organized groups of people stopped it. Large chunks of the population mobilized to take action against a government that failed to listen to the will of the governed.
I agree that social media in-and-of-itself does not represent an upgrade in the tools of political activists. I will add that social media hampers not only total upheaval, but even intermediate levels of change. It preserves status quo. Real change in a society’s power structure requires that at some point individuals have to take action directed against those who hold power. People need to organize and establish a real-world physical presence in order to even contemplate this possibility.
Social media accomplishes zero in the area of organized action. There is nothing active about it. It keeps people locked at the level of merely expressing opinion, which others ‘like’ and ‘re-tweet,’ but no one ever ventures out from behind the computer to take real action. Social media allows people to express an opinion, and build agreement around that opinion, but there is no link to click that attacks the system. It can create consensus, and bring together like-minded individuals, but it offers nothing in the way of tangible action. While social media may give a voice to the oppressed, that voice grows hoarse if the oppressed cannot take action against their oppressors.
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Found this great piece where one citizen blogger describes being detained by Customs and Border Protection officers for refusing to answer questions when he returned from vacation. This should be taught in Civics classes, or whatever they call it these days. From my newest read-daily-blog, Knife Tricks. [found by way of Boing Boing]
The bottom line here is a U.S. citizen’s only obligations upon re-entering the country are to show proof of citizenship and declare goods purchased overseas. You may be questioned if your citizenship documents are suspect, however, that’s it. As the author says, “You don’t have to answer questions about where you went, why you went, who you saw, etc.” Further, there is no situation where a U.S. Citizen can be compelled to answer questions from a law enforcement officer. Even if you are under arrest, and only then after you have retained a lawyer. Given the U.S. government’s continued assault on the rights of its citizens since 9/11, I think the author demonstrates a much-needed reminder. Even those who are aware of their rights are often afraid to exercise them in the current political climate.
I’m surprised so many commenters on both the author’s blog and the Boing Boing piece took issue with the writer. If you don’t use rights, you lose them. Unless citizens push back against the government, the government will continue to repeal our rights. The government used 9/11 to begin a rollback of the rights of U.S. citizens. The attack has continued in the face of complete absence of opposition, let alone just some kind of questioning of the government’s self-appointed authority.
When the Bill of Rights was written into the Constitution, it was because the people agitated for those amendments. We now find ourselves at a point in history when the citizens no longer actively assert their rights. This has created an atmosphere in which the government is grabbing at our rights. At one time, even just the attempt would have been unthinkable.
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