Thoughts on Online Activism

Among this week’s readings, I found Harp, Bachmann, and Guo’s study on the Internet and activism an interesting read, although (considering the countries surveyed) their findings were not all too surprising.

This study centered on China, Latin America, and the US where various organizations have already been using the Internet and social networking sites to mobilize their communities. For all their similarities in usage, however, it was interesting to see how different each of their concerns were. Chinese users were worried about government intervention while Latin American users did not have much Internet access at home. In contrast, American activists’ primary concern was the lack of time. This made me think about how often I would see posts on my social network feeds with an invitation to sign petitions or donate money for various causes to  change my local community. How often do I actually sign or donate my time and/or money? I don’t pay attention to these often not because I don’t care for the cause (although that may be a case for some), but because of lack of time. This study questions the effectiveness of online activism without conclusive results. My hunch is that the Internet is effective in advertising the cause. But, it is difficult to actually mobilize people, especially with all the other distractions available online.

I also wonder how feasible it is to study the relationship between online and offline activism. I could imagine the Internet making it easier to globalize a regional cause, but how helpful are social networking sites in influencing others to actively support and participate in a cause?


As a final thought, I kept thinking back to the Pussy Riot case in Russia, where the punk band was imprisoned and trialed for speaking ill of the government and Vladimir Putin. Their case sparked protests not only in Russia but in the US. People all across the globe donned the band’s signature ski masks and held signs with messages to free the women in solidarity. In the US, a documentary was even made highlighting the trial and the problems with Russian censorship. All this would not be possible without the Internet and social media networks, and is a good example of the translation between online and offline activism.

Week 8 reading reflections

In the first reading for this week, “Networks: Emerging Frameworks for Analysis” by Amelia H. Arsenault, the author explores the importance of networks as a social and political phenomenon: how to define networks, how to study them and their implications for both individual and society as a whole.

As it is define in simplest terms, a network refers to a set of relationships between objects or nodes. According to author, depending on the network or theoretical approach to observe the networks, the nodes or members within a network are always heterogeneous or different from one another.

It is acceptable for definition of what a network is but I am uncertain for the latter argument that all members within network are heterogeneous or different from one another. I might consider the differences among members are the reason to communicate each other and stay in the network. But I found no evident that differences make members to communicate each other. In contrast to what the author said, I imagine the possibility of a network society that is totally homogenous in which members or nodes of networks have exact uniformity but remains in the network and communicate with each other for the benefits of each members.

So here comes my question: is it necessary for members of network societies to be different from each other? Or all network societies are essentially heterogeneous?

As I digest the concept of network societies from the article, I visualize them in two model. First, the one with the center or the hub that take the leadership role to control and supervise the information flow across the network. Second, there is another possibility of a network society that is totally leaderless in which all members have the same level of privilege to sent, transmit and receive the information in the same way.

As I have some knowledge in computer networking technologies, I compare the models of computer networks to human based network societies as below.


As you can see above, the server based computer network model is compatible to network societies in the countries ruled by authoritarian government, in which the leader or the broadcasting center sits at the center to disseminate information across the countries to units of government bodies which are all created as uniform entities. This kind of countries usually lacks private partnerships as well as foreign entities in communication industry and the State is the sole broadcaster of information. It is also a characteristic for that kind of network society where all of its citizens or provincial units are seen as equal or propagandize as equal just as the computers within a server based network may have equal priority to access information in the server. Society in North Korea is the best example for that kind of network societies centering around the government or leadership for broadcasting of information.

Although societies in authoritarian nations are the ultimate model for this kind of networks, other nations are not free from server based or central government based networks. I believe all nation’s government today has some forms of central control to its citizens or regional units so that they are bounded as one nation.

Secondly, in peer-to-peer or P2P network model, all computers are connected to each other directly rather via the server computer. As it does not have server to supervise and control the flow of information, each computer is free to send, receive and transfer information without limit and restrictions but they are all responsible for all of its networking activities. And characteristically, all are required to maintain separate channels to connect with another one.

I believe this kind of networking societies can be seen in today’s emerging supranational corporations like SONY and organizations like World Trade Organization. In the case of SONY, although it was started out as a Japan based brand electronic maker, it is now extended into many different industries like entertainment, media and electronics and propagated a number of productions centers and governing units across the globe. Although all of these companies are part of SONY group of companies, they running as separate independent units and there is not a central control for communicating with each other and decision making processes. For WTO, all trading nations sit together to set guidelines and procedures to benefit the most for each of them.  Each member nations are free to network and communicate with other nations and it lacks the central body like United Nations’ Security Council to make the ultimate decisions for all.

Here, I am wondering if there any other model for networking societies in any other forms. I think these two models can be seen as two extreme ends of today’s networking societies in which all are somewhere between totally centralized and entirely independently entities. Most of network societies are hybrid of the two.

Finally, I have another question for staying out of networks or rights to refuse to be a network society. This can be seen in theoretical framework of second reading, a research report by three authors on Profiling Social Networking Sites and Activists in China, Latin America, and the United States.

As observing the activism in social networking sites, it can be seen the forces of globalization with the American/Western civilizations at the spearhead is spreading across the world and impacting everyone. But there are still fierce countering forces to reject this Westernized or globalized world. Especially, in Islamic societies, there are strong tendencies to remain in traditional forms of communications and apparently the terrorism is their response to expending globalization. But, these tendencies are not limited to Muslim’s world. If one looks carefully across the globe, there are non-Islamic societies that choose to be out of network societies like tiny Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan and tribal societies of Papua New Guinea. These countries are remain in their traditional ways of life just as hundreds of years ago but are seen as backward societies and stand the lowest at international standards index for development and innovations.

So here comes another critical question: Is it possible to stay out of today’s networks or refuse to be a network society?

Week 8 Presentation Questions

Hi Everyone,  My group is presenting this week on the theme of  “Internet, Media and Power: Infrastructure, Stakeholders, and Governance”. Here are a few questions we generated regarding to the topic.

  • What would differentiate a controlled media and an uncontrolled media? And is the media in the U.S controlled?
  • How do global activists successfully relay and promote their messages in communication networks against the established power-making influences?
  • Some scholars claim that the Internet provides an open forum for free speech, while others argue that the Internet is dominated by elite groups. What role do activists play in this environment?
  • How might activists use the Internet to overcome nation-based constraints such as the ones mentioned in the reading (e.g. surveillance, lack of access or time) and reach global audiences? Can you think of an example?

Oct. 21 Network and Activism

I really enjoyed this conclusion to Castell’s, Communication Power. I can totally see where he is coming from in terms of switches and programmers, I thought that this was a great and creative way to display the power structure and show that the power structures do exist like this everywhere in the world. This is a boundless network, only restricted to the degree of their own flaws, which are many.

First I want to expand upon the conclusion starting on pg 429. “The programmers and switches are the holders of power in the network society, embodied by social actors, but are not individuals, they networks themselves”. I’m gonna start by saying that they are a reflection of the global consciousness, reflection of society, and that the problem switches are the result of not enough programmers (found something similar to this, later as I was reading). It is human nature, when in overload to maximize perceived reward even with a damaged consciousness, like Ruport Murdoch’s case. Him and others operate in a dysfunctional way, because it is too much power and information overload. We can’t necessarily blame them, because they truly feel that they are doing the best that they can, even if they are carrying out crimes against humanity. It is still, too much responsibility for 1 or a few switches. Many more switches need to rise to the occasion and better filter, transmit, and encode messages that are even more representative of the larger network, or are at a level of better refinement and quality. It is entirely too much power, control, responsibility ……etc for one individual and as a result of excess labour and stress, the switch becomes corrupted and then we begin to see splinters and cracks and eventually breakdowns of entire systems and then new systems are created unless more programmers come in to save the existing system and change it to better support a more balanced, smoother operating system.

Pg 416, “where institutions become dysfunctional because of their deep penetration by criminal networks, the police become a threat to law-abiding citizens who organize their lives as far as possible from the corridors of the state.” I have personally spoken with probably thousands of people on this issue. The sentiment is very distrusting both here in the US, and people I have met from India, Turkey, Egypt, England, Mexico, Nigeria, Ghanna, Ireland, …….basically everywhere except Canada, Singapore and Australia really. This is very relevant today and becoming more and more pervasive of people being less trusting of their not just the police but also their government.

Pgs 424, 427, The text speaks about the collapse of the financial markets in 2008 and mentions the absence of regulation, but a couple ver important pts in history should be mentioned, that regulation was once in place and then removed, which allowed for tighter control and constriction of the true information on asset prices that created the bubble economy that finally burst. This was a bi-partison (Demican-Republicrat) deal to repeal the Glass-Stealgall Act in 1996, this eliminated the separation of investment and commercial banking and the creation of AIG securing all of these toxic investments, I highly recommend all to read Meltdown, Thomas Woods and for greater depth but much more technical The Big Short, by Michael Lewis. I will say one other thing, switches where in play and structures described very similarly as described by Cassell’s; his way of describing is very applicable and could have been applied here as well.

One more thing. Why do we need corporations? It was mentioned here in the end that this was a breakdown of corporate capitalism. I went to business school, I can retrieve the definitions of why we create them. But why do we tolerate this belief that those who operate corporations should be held to a lessor degree than those who do not? This conversation was first presented to me, by friend who has the corporation in his industry here in America, and he opposed the idea of us supporting such a flawed idea.

The Whole Online World Is Watching:
Profiling Social Networking Sites and Activists in
China, Latin America, and the United States

This seems like an important study, but maybe it needs more refinement or updating. In the end it says that the results are not generalizable, because of a small population size. I looked over the stats and nothing really stood out to me either. The study could probably use some work.

Reflection #8

Good Afternoon, everyone! My group and I are presenting on this week’s topic: “Internet, Media and Power: Infrastructure, Stakeholders, and Governance”. And as already stated on my group member’s posts, here are a few questions to think about prior to our next class meeting:

1. What would differentiate a controlled media and an uncontrolled media? And is the media in the U.S controlled?

2. How do global activists successfully relay and promote their messages in communication networks against the established power-making influences?

3. Some scholars claim that the Internet provides an open forum for free speech, while others argue that the Internet is dominated by elite groups. What role do activists play in this environment?

4. How might activists use the Internet to overcome nation-based constraints such as the ones mentioned in the reading (e.g. surveillance, lack of access or time) and reach global audiences? Can you think of an example?

Oct. 21st Readings Reflections

Arsenault Reading:

What I found most interesting in this discussion was the conclusion. This article closely examines the Actor-Network Theory, which indicates the similarities between human/social networks to technology networks, wherein both involves “nodes” whether they be machines or people. The Network Theory is another approach which focuses more on rapid evolution of technology and its role as a catalyst in creating network societies. These theories really have little to do with each other as far as the focus. In the final paragraph, Arsenault proposes that these different approaches to network theory and the apparent lack of cohesion amongst them is due to a lack of communication amongst theorists. Obviously, it would seem telling and ironic that a communication study is suffering due to a lack of communication, but I do not think this discounts these concepts.

Harp, Bachman, and Guo Reading:

In response to this discussion of activism and the use of SNS platforms to augment both public and governmental poltical agendas, I cannot help but call an article I read in the New Yorker earlier this month that brought to the forefront the 2009 protests in Moldova that were organized entirely by mobilizing demonstrators via Facebook and Twitter. Here is a  article/video about that, pretty remarkable example of a sentiment from this reading:
Also, in this article, the study of three different regions and their use of SNS for me raised this question: what are the necessary prerequisites that a country must fulfill in order to have effective and widespread use of SNS as a tool of activism? I.E. a well developed middle class, etc.



October 21st Readings

There seems to be a theme in this class that communication is largely tailored globally to fit into local contexts. This idea was present in the readings for this week as Harp, Bachmann, and Guo observed the relationship between social networking sites and activists in China, Latin America, and the United States in their research publication.

It is clear that in all three cases, social media is an important tool in mobilizing voices to support a social or political cause. As described in the article, it is cost effective, and identifies a collective identity. However, social, political, and economic factors (all of which differ greatly across these three observed regions) play an enormous role in the relationship between the social media and these activists.

When discussing China, the researchers explain that online activism in China “always coexists with government control” and that there is a constant censorship. They briefly point out that activists in China find ways around this censorship. As I have shared in class, my sister recently moved to Beijing and was blocked from using Facebook. After a couple of weeks however, she was able to find out ways to get around the censorship and access her Facebook page. My sister speaks no Chinese and again she has not been in the country for more than a month, yet she was able to work around their system. I would like to know more about how these activists are bypassing the system and moreover, what issues are they trying to bring to light from outside of the government censorship?

As for their analysis of the Latin American online activism, they left the reader with a cliff-hanger. The authors describe that Latin America has struggled with internet accessibility across the region (which is understandable, considering that of the three observed regions they are the only that includes multiple countries. I wonder why they did not focus on a specific country in Latin America. It makes the comparison inconsistent).  Where they leave us hanging is when they explain there has been a huge increase in social media and internet use in Latin America and that they do not have conclusive data on how online activism fits in to equation. What will happen to online activism in Latin America next? Will it become more influential?