I thought I should highlight the blog iRevolution which is run by a PhD student named Patrick Meier who is at the Fletcher School. Mr. Meier seems largely to use the blog as a place to post his dissertation-related notes and musings. The dissertation is called “The Role of New Media and Technology in Popular Resistance against Repressive Rule.”
In a brilliant and funny move, he has two descriptions of his dissertation topic. The first is the “Media Version,” which I quote below. The second is the “Academic Version” which is quite a bit longer. (Isn’t that always the way?)
Media Version: Does access to new media and technology change the balance of power between repressive regimes and civil resistance movements? We all saw what happened in Iran (one of my case studies, in addition to Burma, Zimbabwe and Tunisia). New technologies played a major role in the events leading up to and following the elections and are likely to continue having a tremendous impact in Iran and beyond. Social networking tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and blogging have clearly changed the way individuals in non-permissive environments communicate with each other and the outside world. From SMS and cell phone cameras to Flip cams and flash drives, new media and digital technology is also changing the nature of popular resistance throughout the world. At the same time, repressive regimes are increasingly censoring and monitoring information flows and shutting down popular communication tools in times of threat, thus imposing information blockades.
The question I ask is simple: who is winning this cyber-game of cat-and-mouse? Why? And is this likely to change in the near future?
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One of the continuing themes in the blog is what he takes to be the indiscriminate use of anecdotes to produce quick and easy (and perhaps wrong) answers to the question he is seeking to answer with rigor. For instance, he takes Evgeny Morozov to task (in a friendly way) for too quickly concluding that the new communications technologies favor dictators. (It may not be a coincidence that Morozov is from that bastion of Lockean liberal democracy known as Belarus.) At the same time, Meier is quick to take issue also with those who purvey “the digital ‘Internet = Democracy‘ hype that pervades the mainstream media and much of digital activism.”
He is already starting to have preliminary answers. The quantitative portion of his research seems to say that the answer to the question of “who is winning this cyber-game of cat-and-mouse” is “it depends.” Interestingly, it seems that the extent of cellphone usage is, under certain cirumstances, an important variable in some circumstances. That is to say that cellphones appear to empower civil resistance movements. However, the extent of Internet penetration into a country seems not to predict much of anything . Perhaps Morozov is onto something when he says that people newly acquiring access to the Web aren’t going to download reports from Human Rights Watch, rather they’re going to watch porn, Sex in the City, and funny cat videos.
I could go on and on about the interesting thing in this blog. I’ll just point out a few more features.
- There is a guide Meier has develop to help activists understand how to communicate securely. (It would be interesting to know what some of the experts at, say NSA or the FBI would have to say about the efficacy of these, but that ain’t likely to happen.)
- The blog unabashedly talks in terms that people in the fields of strategic studies or military history should be comfortable with such as “strategy,” “tactics,” and “surveillance.” At one point he draws specific lessons from Clausewitz’s On War. This is not surprising because he is drawing on and contributing to a field known as strategic nonviolent conflict. I may blog about this at some point, but suffice it here to say that this is quite different from the principled nonviolent ideas of a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King. Strategic nonviolent conflict is a form of struggle that uses nonviolence because/when it seems the most effective way to win.
Anyway, check it out.