Comunication, Power and Counterpower in the Network Society

Joignez-vous a L'Espagne ... The Spanish 'indignados' called for a "global revolution" back in May 2011

October 15 saw the first global rally ever. With some 900 cities from across 80 countries participating in some degree, it has been the culmination of a year of spontaneous, massive gatherings, which range from the peaceful Arab Spring, the Spanish indignados and the Occupy Wall Street movement to the more violent London riots and the demonstrations in Greece and Chile.

But what can be seen as an organizational success has been promoted indeed by many actors that don’t even know each other. The truth is, besides being fueled by the negative economic scenario, the emergence of social media and mass self-communication has been absolutely definite in the construction of these movements, suggests Manuel Castells.

Without the means and ways of mass self-communication, the new movements and new forms of insurgent politics could not be conceived. Of course, there is a long history of communication activism, and social movements have not waited for Internet connection in order to struggle for their goals using every available communication medium. Yet, currently the new means of digital communication constitute their most decisive organizational form, in a clear break with the traditional forms of organization of parties, unions and associations of the industrial society, albeit these social actors are now evolving towards the new organizational model built around networked communication. For new social movements, the Internet provides the essential platform for debate, their means of acting on people’s mind, and ultimately serves as their most potent political weapon.
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Is mass self-communication enabling a fairer play between power and counterpower forces? And most importantly, as we asked some weeks ago: will these movements benefit democracy in the long term, or will they become an obstacle to unpopular but necessary measures?

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Citizen engagement will be discussed in our breakout session ‘If We Build It, Will They Come: Why Meaningful Citizen Engagement is Hard’, November 9, 1100 to 1230, with Anas QtieshSean ClearyChat García RamiloSusan PointerHenry SweetbaumKjell Magne Bondevik and Petre Roman.

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Are we approaching the autumn of the Arab Spring?

The symbol of a revolution ... Crowded squares like Cairo's Tahir initiated a movement that has trespassed frontiers.

The initial euphoria caused by the Arab Spring is now giving way to a more sober assessment of the situation. Is democracy finally going to succeed in the Arab world?

To prosper, a democracy requires a society where political and economical differences are not extreme and where citizens know that responsibility and respect always come before freedom. Alas, this rarely is the case in places where “revolutions” have just happened, as they often require a deep economic transformation and a cooling-down of all rancor. And this is a long-term, intergenerational project, say Kristian Coates Ulrichsen and David Held at openDemocracy.

The course of events since the dramatic ousting of Presidents Ben Ali and Mubarak from power in Tunisia and Egypt, and subsequently Colonel Gaddafi in Libya, suggest that we may be witnessing a transition of elites rather than a democratic revolution. (…) As spring and summer turn to autumn, the progression of the Arab Spring appears very uneven and likely to produce highly differentiated outcomes, but should nevertheless be seen as a transformative first step in a long-term process of change.
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Will there ever be a Vietnamese Spring?

Two months ago Vietnamese blogger Dieu Clay lost an arm in prison, where he is held for “conducting propaganda” against the state. This sad news raised the issue of the dozens of peaceful political critics and activists, many of whom are bloggers, who have been sentenced to long prison terms in Vietnam during the last few years.

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) asked democracy advocate Vo Van Hai if a “Vietnamese Spring” could ever happen:

The ‘Arab Spring’ is definitely an awakening call. But we cannot compare the two situations. Although Tunisia, Egypt and other countries of the Middle East were ruled by dictatorships, there was a two-way flow of information, the circulation of ideas, a development of democratic culture. Under Vietnam’s tight system of censorship and control, these things have not had time to develop. But the seeds have been shown, and they are growing. We must be ready to help people in Vietnam when the moment comes.
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Did Wikileaks influence the Arab Spring?

According to Julian Assange, without Wikileaks’ material the Arab Spring might never have happened. But The Guardian’s journalist David Leigh, whith whom Wikileaks worked to publish its cables and who is now maintaining a row with Assange, says that “anyone who thinks that the Arab Spring was caused by Wikileaks is off their heads”.

Do you agree? Has releasing classified material changed the world?

Listen to today’s BBC’s interview to Mr. Leigh on the matter here. Interview starts at 29.35, declarations on the Arab Spring at 32.30. Program only available until September 8.

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The Arab Spring will be discussed on our dinner talk ‘New Technologies, the Arab Spring and 21st Century Statecraft’ on November 8, 20:30 to 22:30, with Andy CarvinAlec RossAneesh Chopra and Derrick N. Ashong.

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Social Media: The antidote to totalitarisms?

With the rise of Internet and Social Media, mass communication no longer needs intermediaries. Totalitarian states around the world are finding it increasingly difficult to control and censor the information and opinions their subjects receive, and thus they are seeing their legitimacy questioned and their power tumbling.

We have recently witnessed this in several Arab countries, but many believe it will not happen to rising China. Will there ever be a Chinese Spring? It will, and “sooner than anyone expects”, says Will Hutton.

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