Winning the struggle over internet narratives
We see the power of narratives in the ways we think about, talk about, and envision the role of the internet in our everyday lives and societies –- present and future . We also see the importance of challenging dominant narratives about the internet when they are hyperbolic, misrepresentative of actual cases of internet use, and disempowering to people. We have seen activists and tech reporters challenge and bury the Twitter Revolution (and its ghosts in the case of Tunisia and Egypt).
In parallel, journalists have strongly challenged the notion that the internet makes professional journalism obsolete, and organizers have challenged the notion that using the internet removes any possibility for leadership in mobilization. Wikileaks’ Assange has repeatedly said that simply making information available in the form of raw data online is not enough, teaching us that certain designated centers must make information relatable, urgent, and politicized.
And columnist Roger Cohen, who extensively covered the Green Movement, has stated repeatedly that in an information-rich world, fast-paced and emotionally moving scenes or accounts circulate widely, which makes the role of credited journalists all the more important as storytellers, “contextualizers,” analysts, and verifiers. And the Egyptian revolution has shown us that collectives such as youth and student groups, organized labor, leftist organizations, etc. are key in leading revolutionary process all the way. Their effective use of online applications in mobilization has brought forth a form of leadership with multiple, dynamic nodes rather than an absence of them.
And in both Iranian and Egyptian cases we see that social media as information disseminators are first on the scene, ahead of the news, and post unique content, but still require the eventual boost of established broadcast media (CNN, Al Jazeera, etc.) to make the story pass the threshold into the global. As some announce our entry into a stage of cyber-pragmatism rather than hyperbolism, we see the significance of highlighting critical counter-narratives wherever signs of techno-utopianisms, hypocrisies of the powerful, and national and market chauvinisms reemerge.
Looking at Iran
While the prevalence of internet usage in Iran was cited as a reason for the popular uprising in 2009, the current revolutionary wave engulfing Arab nations flies in the face of that story. The question is – as the lingering techno-utopian, Clay Shirky himself admits – if the internet is so indispensable for social movements, should Iran’s technological and educational advantages relative to regional counterparts not have meant certain success? Rather, the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions revealed by contrast that Iran’s Green Movement seems to have come to a point of relative stagnation.
But this has little if anything to do with whether or not social media are being used (effectively), and everything to do with the differences between Iran and its co-regionals; e.g. the reformist leadership, the composition of the movement, the structure and power of the state, existing support for the establishment, relationship to the West, the people’s past experience with revolution, the demands of protesters, and their links to organized labor, etc. Developing our own narratives of the internet based in hypotheses drawn from experiences (for example the proposed blackout-protest hypothesis) is an integral part of the power struggle over new media and internet technologies.
Looking at how people not only use, but perceive the internet and how these perceptions are shaped by certain media narratives, will bring us closer to grasping the internet’s (potential) power in social movements, civil society, and democratic change. We also need to take seriously the impact that new media have on people’s experiences, interpretations, and reactions to the messages they consume through it, acknowledging the new possibilities, genres, and relationships taking shape.
Older media have played important roles in social movements in the past; the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran was significantly facilitated by cassette tapes circulated subversively among the people. However, it was never asserted as a “Cassette Tape Revolution,” protesters did not hold up signs and banners thanking their tape players, and graffiti of tapes did not adorn Tehran walls; as far as I know, nor did that of cellphones or email in the recent revolts. How can we understand this if not as evidence of our changing relationships with new media through emerging and dynamic narratives?
Do your part to lift the pain of sanctions on Iranian families.
Dear Catherine Ashton:
We, the undersigned, are concerned about the effects the implementation of sanctions are having on average Iranians. We are particularly concerned that items that are not sanctioned, such as medication and humanitarian goods are not reaching the people in Iran.
This is a time of great suffering in the region. We want to ensure that we are not further contributing to the suffering because of the denial of access to a payment channel for humanitarian items. We know the intention of the sanctions is to put pressure on Iran’s ruling elite. We worry that this is not the reality.
The brunt of the suffering falls on women and children and the most vulnerable in society. They suffer the consequences in very real ways. They lose their incomes, their homes, and their access to life-saving medication. Some of this suffering can be alleviated by facilitating the seamless implementation of the existing humanitarian exemptions. These include financial transactions related to medications, basic needs, and other items that are currently not sanctioned.
We ask the European Union to create a payment channel to accept transactions from Iran. This channel should be closely scrutinized. This will allow much needed financial transactions for medications and basic needs to take place.
It is crucial at this time when the people of Iran are desperately trying to make their own voices heard that we show we are listening. They went to the polls in an attempt to show their own government that they wanted reform and better relations with the outside world. We need to show we are listening.
Please help to avert a humanitarian disaster. Allow Iranians access to the international banking system to purchase medications and humanitarian goods.