Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Fuchs ch.8

Fuchs spends a lot of time in chapter 8 downplaying the importance of social media in the Arab Spring. While I agree for the most part with him, I have one major reservation, namely the governments in each country's perceived notion of how powerful social media is. In many of the countries that had protests and revolutions during the Arab Spring, such as Egypt and Syria, the governments went to extreme lengths of censorship. They initially blocked social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and when that was not enough, they shut down the entire country's internet. The governments in this country were so scared of the power of these sites that they went to these extreme lengths, so is Fuchs underestimating their power?

The blocking of the internet also forced people to leave their houses and congregate in order to find out what was happening, so in a way this may have made the face-to-face interactions that Fuchs thinks so highly of seem more important that it would have been if the internet was still active in these countries. The shutdown of the internet may have actually been the impetus for more gatherings that led to major protests and revolutions, instead of being a minor part as Fuchs states.


  1. That's a really interesting point you bring up, and in my initial reading of the text, I didn't consider how the shutdown of the internet may have led to more of those gatherings. While I'm not sure how much of a direct link that can be to the power of the internet in terms of the actual revolution (the people meeting may have been more effective and may not have happened without the internet, but had the internet still been active, it may not have happened to that degree), I do see a lot of merit to the question about Fuchs potentially underestimating the power of social media. It's no secret that some countries do censor the internet, which causes the question of, What are these governments afraid of? Are the governments overestimating the power of social media, or is Fuchs underestimating it?

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  3. One thing that I think is important to consider in trying to answer your question is that blocking the Internet would naturally have effects that reach father than inhibiting the use of social media and other platforms associated with “Web 2.0.” Regarding protests that many dub “Twitter revolutions,” Fuchs asserts that older forms of online media such as email and websites were more important than newer forms of social media. If that was truly the case, it is possible that blocking these modes of communication by virtue of dismantling the Internet might have been the larger underlying cause of increased face-to-face interaction and occupation of physical space.

    I think in this chapter, what Fuchs wants to address is not the question of whether or not the Internet was effective in catalyzing uprisings from the past several years, but whether or not Twitter and other Web 2.0 “public spheres” specifically were the cause of these protests, as many such as Shirky argue.

    Something that I think would significantly contribute to the discourse about the efficacy of social media in activism is: how would an online platform that is a true public sphere help or hinder social change? Fuchs discounts Twitter as a public sphere mainly because it cleverly disguises societal power asymmetries. It is moderated by a large economic power that can manipulate discourse through profit-driven targeted advertising/search results. Additionally, it tends to disproportionately display the interests of individuals/organizations with the most social capital. What then would happen if a purely non-profit platform (that also excludes commentary about trivial matters such as who wore what on the red carpet) gained the same popularity as Twitter or Facebook? Would protests somehow become more effective/have longer lasting or more profound social effects with the establishment of a more public online sphere?

    Unfortunately it seems unlikely, maybe even impossible, for us to ever find out because of roadblocks associated with implementing such a platform.


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