Pi Attitude Zone: Ethics & Altruism

Praise Marx And Pass The Social Media [1]

Question:  how did social and political activists make revolutions before the Age of Twitter?  Answer:  one hell of a lot more effectively.

We are supposed to believe now that social traffic on the internet is in itself revolutionary, and that social media have reinvented social activism.  That may be true, to a limited extent.  However, at the risk of looking like the only parade participant marching in step, Pi would postulate that the said “reinvention” has removed the soul and purpose from social activism, and reduced it to something trivial, diminished and comparatively pointless – unless the “point” is just to busy ourselves with a self-referential new pastime.  Pi suspects we are here on earth for a higher purpose than that.

The trouble is, when social media engulfed our tiny human attention spans, and started crowding out everything that was not “now” and/or “trending”, we quickly forgot about the way things used to be achieved in the pre-internet world.  As Malcolm Gladwell put it in a magisterial article in the New Yorker, “The marvels of communication technology... have produced a false consciousness about the past... a sense that communication has no history, or had nothing of importance to consider before the days of TV and the internet”.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Think back to the 1960s, when the activists of the civil rights movement took on the bigotry of the American South, and changed America for ever.  Where was Facebook?  Where was Twitter?  Where was texting?  Where was e-mail?  The Civil Rights Revolution happened without any of them.  These were real people engaging in real organizations, taking huge personal risks, and overturning the effects of a century of social injustice by turning up in person, and physically standing to be counted.

By contrast, look at the reporting of Iranian student protests in Tehran in 2009, well into the Twitter Age.  Twitter was the element which, if Western media were to be believed, gave the protesters the confidence and empowerment to stand up to the repressive mullahs and demand democratic change.  Real people were on the streets of the Iranian capital, taking real risks, like the civil rights activists in the American South.  But did Twitter really play a “crucial role” in Iran’s protest movement, as the Western media reported?  Actually no, it did not.  As Gladwell put it in his piece, “The people tweeting about the [Iranian] demonstrations were almost all in the West”. 

Western journalists, you see, were unable to contact people on the ground in Tehran, so they lazily relied on tweets with the tag #iranelection – all of them in English.  It did not occur to them that no-one coordinating protests inside Iran itself would use any language other than Farsi.  What they reported on was noise, not revolution.  A Facebook friend or an indignant Tweeter is not the same thing as someone standing beside you at the barricades, braving tear-gas, batons and worse.  An internet “friend’s” commitment is given in a moment, and often forgotten the next.  It involves no risk, and therefore really doesn’t qualify as a commitment in the first place.

In the next post, we look at why social networking will always be temporary and trivial, and will probably never really change much of anything.

Zone: Ethics & Altruism Country: Multiple Geographies Product –