Politics

Beyond Blind Optimism

0 25

In Political Reflection Magazine, vol. 3, issue 3, Dr. Terry Tucker writes about the role social media played in the Arab Spring and the campaigns against SOPA/PIPA (Stop Online Piracy/Protect IP Act) and NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act). His article consists primarily of a list of lessons learned from these highly disparate “events.” In the first paragraph he claims that they are only “seemingly unconnected,” and the text proceeds without mentioning the vast differences in context—the lessons learned from revolts and revolutions gets lumped in with lessons from political campaigns in democratic countries.


BY PÄR ISAKSSON and MARTIN KARLSSON | APRIL 09, 2013

url25

The “lessons learned” are presented without clear references to analyses or descriptions of these cases, as if the conclusions were self-evident and independent of political context. Given the vast differences between these cases it is probable that Dr. Tucker attempts to draw generally applicable conclusions about the consequences of social media for political engagement rather than restricting his analysis to specific cases.

Dr. Tucker is very optimistic about the possibilities of social media, and his article echoes of the writings of Martin Hauben, Howard Rheingold and other earlier preachers of the revolutionary potential of new information and communication technologies (ICTs). The lingo is the same—revolution, regime change, and end of history. Another similarity with earlier cyber-optimists is how Dr. Tucker writes about social media as if it was a living entity possessing agency. Among other things, we can read about what social media “has done in the Middle East” (emphasis added). Cyber-optimism was a common position in the early years of the debate about the political consequences of ICTs, within and outside of academia, and the debate was plagued by opposition between optimists and pessimists for many years. Within the scholarly community a clear empirical turn in the research around ICTs and politics has pushed the debate forward toward a more realistic middle ground. In the wider debate, this development is still to come.

Dr. Tucker’s piece illustrates all too well the unfortunate gap between the wider political debates around social media (in which we include Dr. Tucker’s article) and empirically grounded research. Recently, a growing interest in social media and online political engagement has arisen outside academia resulting in a widely read debate with little connection to the empirically grounded research in this field. The consequence of this divide has been that wild claims contradicting earlier knowledge of social science are made and published, reaching a large audience without being challenged. The aim of this article is to challenge some of Dr. Tucker’s wilder claims in order to illustrate how important parts of Dr. Tucker’s reasoning are at odds with empirically well-grounded observations within the research field. We end the article with reflections on the potential gains of bridging this divide for the understanding of the relationship between social media and politics.

Social media and revolution

According to Dr. Tucker, the birth and global spreading of social media is causally related to the recent revolutions in non-democratic regimes. Apparently, “[s]ocial media is best suited to a ‘Maoist’ strategy” where “the will of your opponent is quickly overcome through indirect means and psychological mass” (p. 25). Tucker also presents a historical ranking of social revolutions, claiming that, “The most profound revolutions to date were social media population-centric resistance movements” (p. 26). However, the most surprising and inaccurate statement is saved for the end of the article where he states that:

“Revolution may not be the aim, but in most cases to date it has been the outcome. Social media and the growing body of collective effort create a sense of inevitability of perceived outcome and regime change. The sense of narrative creates actions before consequences. Social media creates a sense of the ‘end of history’ as the nuanced version of the narrative creates millions of identifiable personal stories, statements, or chronicles feed the proverbial beast. The ethics and universalism of the moment is greater than the parts.” (p. 26)

This kind of revolutionary prophesies was not uncommon among cyber-utopists in the 1990s, nor was the form of technological determinism evident in Dr. Tucker’s writing. While such opinions may have been common back then, today they are nearly extinct. For good reasons, few still talk as Dr. Tucker does of the “inevitability” of regime change in relation to social media. The accumulated knowledge of research on the Internet and politics gives us at least three reasons to question this statement.

  1. Revolution is far from a common outcome of social mobilization with support of ICTs and social media. In fact, the thresholds for political engagement among citizens, in democracies and authoritarian regimes alike, remain largely unchanged by recent technological advancements. This is evident by the hundreds of studies of the so-called mobilization hypothesis (among the more famous examples we find Margolis and Resnick’s book, “Politics as Usual”), investigating the claim that new forms of political communication and engagement offered by ICTs will help mobilize new groups of citizens to become politically active. This research shows that the cognitive and social recourses that have traditionally been important for explaining political participation are still significant for understanding online political engagement. In many ways the digital divide shown by this research mirrored the previously known inequalities that created a divide between politically active and non-active. Therefore, social media is not mono-casually linked to social mobilization, a prerequisite for revolutions to occur. The new socio-technological landscape does not in itself mobilize earlier inactive citizens to become engaged in political protests.
  2. Social revolutions (in any form) are no more common in the age of ICTs and social media. On the contrary, the occurrence of revolutionary wars, coup d’états and adverse regime changes was highest around the fall of the Soviet Union and has since started to decline. Except for the years after the end of World War II, the past decade has been the most stable period of the post-war era.

pdfTo Read the rest of the article Please Click Here for Free Download

Published in Political Reflection Magazine Vol. 4  No. 1

About the author / 

CESRAN Int.

Leave a reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

CESRAN Blog

  • 24th Issue is Online Now!

    Vol. VI | No. III – July-August-September 2020 To Download the Magazine Click Here… CONTENTS 05-14….. World News by Ebru Birinci 17-24….. Preparedness for an Uncertain Future “The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself” by Professor Mark Meirowitz 25-39….. EU LAW vs UK LAW The Primacy of EU Law over National Law:…

  • IEPAS2020 is Going Virtual!

    Dear Friends and Colleagues, IEPAS2020 is Going Virtual! Due to the COVID19 pandemic, we are holding our entire conference virtually by streaming all of the live sessions. You may participate in all of our virtual networking events. In case of missing a session, you may get full access to the replays of every session since all…

  • The 13th issue of JCTS (Journal of Conflict Transformation & Security) is out now…

    The 13th issue of JCTS (Journal of Conflict Transformation & Security) is out now… Vol. 8 | No. 1 | 2020 Click here to Download the Entire Issue   TABLE OF CONTENTS Editor’s Note By David Curran Introduction By Nergis Canefe Research Articles Statelessness as a Permanent State: Challenges to the Human Security Paradigm By…

  • The 19th Issue of The Rest: Journal of Politics and Development is Out Now!

    The 19th issue of the rest: journal of politics and development is out now. Download the issue here… TABLE OF CONTENTS Research Articles Turkish AK Parti’s Posture towards the 2003 War in Iraq: The Impact of Religion amid Security Concerns By Alberto Gasparetto Nigeria and the Great Powers: The Impacts of the Boko Haram Terrorism on…

  • CESRAN International Named again amongst the Top Think Tanks in the World

    CESRAN International is pleased to announce that it has been named again amongst the world’s best think tanks. The 2019 Global Go To Think Tank Index ranked CESRAN International 141st among the World’s “Top Think Tanks in Western Europe” 75th among the World’s “Top Environment Policy Think Tanks” 153rd among the World’s “Top Foreign Policy…

  • THE 18TH ISSUE OF THE REST: JOURNAL OF POLITICS AND DEVELOPMENT IS OUT NOW.

    The 18th issue of the rest: journal of politics and development is out now. Download the issue here… TABLE OF CONTENTS Research Articles The Foreign Policy Decision Making Approaches and Their Applications Case Study: Bush, Obama and Trump’s Decision Making towards Afghanistan and the Region By Sharifullah Dorani Evaluating the Explanatory Power of Social Identity Theory,…

Newsletter