Saturday, April 10, 2010

Netless in Kyrgyzstan?

Foreign Policy magazine’s resident technology writer Evgeny Morozov weighed in on Thursday about the Internet’s impact on the sudden uprising in Kyrgyzstan – or more accurately, the Internet’s lack of impact on the uprising. Morozov notes that unlike the “Green” movement in Iran, the Kyrgyz uprising isn’t being painted as an example of the revolutionary power of the Internet. There’s little evidence that the Internet had much impact in arranging the street protests that wound up turning into an unexpected revolution, nor in trying to organize the opposition forces now that the Kyrgyz government has gone into a sort of self-imposed exile in the south of the country.

Morozov’s bigger point is that the media has had a tendency to overhype the role of the Internet, particularly Twitter, in recent social uprisings around the globe. I think he’s onto something here. It’s pretty clear that during the past year the media has gone crazy for social media, try to find a reporter or news anchor today who isn’t incessantly flogging their Twitter account or blog. Once they take to something though, the mainstream media tends to believe that it is the most important thing in the world, and social networking is no different. So of course the Internet/social media/Twitter/etc. are no different. But as Morozov points out, despite all the furious tweeting and Facebook posts about the Green movement over the course of the past year, the Ahmadinejad regime in still firmly in control in Iran, and there’s little to indicate that will change anytime soon. I’d also point to another recent Facebook phenom, the “Purple” movement in Italy. Activists fed up with the scandal-plagued government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi started a Facebook campaign to get everyone to wear purple as a symbol of their desire to send Silvio packing. Rallies in Rome brought together tens of thousands of purple-clad protestors. And it appears that the purple movement had an impact in regional elections across Italy two weeks ago. Unfortunately rather than an exercise in “purple power” many anti- Silvio voters just stayed home, which gave victories to some of Berlusconi most conservative political allies – probably not what the purple protestors intended.

This isn’t to say that the Internet/social media has no role in politics – it can be a powerful tool, but it is important to remember that social media in its various forms is just that, a tool. What’s more important though are the citizens of the nation in question since they are the ones who will ultimately decide whether an uprising fails or succeeds, with or without the use of the Internet.
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