Unfortunately the panel touted in my previous post was cancelled at the last minute: only about 20 people signed up (although I blame the heavy rains). I can understand no one wanting to hear me: But Michael Geist and James Topham . . . two smart guys with some controversial views?
Since I had prepared some notes, that frankly read like a manifesto, I thought I would post them here just to show those who didn't want to attend what they missed. They are just notes, so forgive any faults in syntax. :)
- I would rather be an activist today than when I was a radical because there is immense political power possible through well-planned use of the social web. In fact, a meta review of studies on the impact of web campaigns on real–life decisions concluded that there is a demonstrable positive impact of such campaigns on off–line mobilization. (Henrik Serup Christensen).
- The fact that people are more networked today than at any other point in history means that even under repressive regimes they have access to more information, many more avenues to engage in public discourse, a unique facility to form a nexus for action, and a rich new toolbox for protest.
- Web-based activism can do four things extremely well . . . It can help Educate | Organize | Create the Courage to Act | Provide Direction to Action and for that, as an apostate radical campaigner, I am grateful
- To express doubts about 'slacktivism', to find fault when the social web fails to deliver (as it does for politicians in Canada), to dwell on its shortcomings of which there are many not least of which is that it can reinforce shallow and dogmatic thinking, is simply ahistorical, short-sighted and cynical.
- Even the weak ties that a Gladwell or others talk about as a fault of social web activism can become strong ties . . . Strong enough to create a revolution. Following Greenpeace on Twitter, or liking it on Facebook might be a “weak tie” , but it’s a tie nonetheless, and every little bit helps. Weak ties can become stronger in the hands of the right organizers.
- Of course there are limitations as Tom Slater warns in a piece called " It takes more than online PR campaigns to change the world" in The Independent online: ". . . activism itself has been consumed by the processes of popular culture, and sterilised by the politics of narcissism. The Occupy Movement epitomises this degradation . . . just as Facebook users name their musical and literary likes, many aspiring revolutionaries will often list the ideologies and campaigns they subscribe to. In this fashion, activism has been subordinated to the culture of cool, and the new bourgeois radical is nothing more than a hollow composite of revolutionary imagery. As one writer has put it, they are more of a fashion show masquerading as a political movement."
- Re: #6, of course, I have to say that this is precisely what we revolutionaries said of peace-and-love hippies in the 60s and 70s
- And, yes, there are dangerous trends, as professor Geist, Lawrence Lessig, Ron Deibert from Citizen Lab, Steve Anderson from Openmedia.ca and others point out . . . governments in general don't like things they can't control . . . our own government's 'lawful access' online spying bill or the US's Stop Online Piracy Act are simply Orwellian both in terms of how they describe the purpose of the legislation, and what it will do to web freedom.
- And, yes, authoritarian regimes can turn the web to its own repressive uses (tracking activists|hacking opposition sites)
- But whether or not the social web can facilitate repression, be compromised in the short-run, or allow some to avoid civic responsibility and engagement in mainstream politics (through not voting), its ability to facilitate better coordinated engagement by activists, gadflies, campaigners, professors and critics, its ability to allow all of us to speak more openly will constrain the ability of governments and politicians, the greedy and the corrupt, the dishonest and the cynical to act without consequence and without public oversight.