Sunday, 7 July 2013


(Subtitle : Caught In The Headlights Of A New, Interconnected, Global Democracy)

Steet Protest Days : Makeshift Studios 2013

Life is complicated, I never stop being fascinated by that old curved ball. In truth, none of us can ever work out its exact trajectory. All we can do is look at what is happening and try to work it all out, and dodge being hit by it!

Who, for example, has not been captivated by recent scenes of people on the streets of global cities protesting their injustices? Who has not thought, what is happening there?

In Brazil, Turkey, Bulgaria and Egypt, millions have poured out onto the streets to tell their politicians that they have become disenchanted and unhappy with their rule, and with their decisions.

Placards on the streets of Brazil proclaimed 'Stop Corruption. Change Brazil', 'Come To The Streets. It's The Only Place We Don't Pay Taxes' - hands up if that one resonates with you? - and the insightful 'We Come From Facebook!', as if Facebook was a nation in its own right (or, perhaps, an alien planet from a different galaxy to our leaders?)

But, within this growing democratic phenomenon is an increasing access to technology. Brazil is a good example. In 2012, for example, a massive 65 million Brazilians were using Facebook, which made them the second largest worldwide market for the product behind the USA.

Social media platforms such as Facebook, but also Twitter, Youtube and various smartphone technologies (text, video, images) has opened up an extraordinary opportunity for participatory democracy to the masses ( in nations with democratic and non-democratic regimes).

From the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Algeria, Kuwait et al in 2010, to Los Indignados in Spain, Occupy in London and New York(2011), to Bulgaria, Brazil, Egypt and Turkey (2013), the size, organisation and speed of demonstrations has, in the last three years, been largely driven by social networks.

Harbouring feelings of increasing powerlessness, disenchantment with their politicians, disengaged and distant from their nation's decision-making process, millions, interconnected by technology, have taken to the streets to show their frustrations. As elected, and non-elected, officials seem increasingly oblivious to the emotions, needs and desires of their public, social media has presented a 'new electorate' with the means of organising and mobilising protest.
"Democracy is not just about the ballot box," Egyptian activist Sherief Gaber observed in a BBC TV interview on July 2, against a backdrop of street protests demanding the removal of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi*. "It's about participation and social justice" (BBC News July 2, 2013).

But not everyone is so enthusiastic about the potential extension of democratic channels.

"Social media" Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed on June 2nd. "Are the worst menace to society."  Irritated, no doubt, that while the mainstream Turkish press had ignored the uprising, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, text and video messages - meantime - were keeping 76.4 million Turks fully informed, organised and mobilised.

Echoing Erdogan's annoyance with social media, Turkey's transport and communications minister Binali Yildirim called for Twitter to have a corporate visibility in his nation. With offices in Turkey, Twitter could then be held to account, the government could exert greater control on what is allowed and what is NOT allowed across platforms. Ominously,of course, they can then decide what stays on social media and what is removed.

I can see, and I am sure you can, a natural friction building between the needs of corporate capitalism to feed its shareholders, the desires of state governments to control, and the growing access within nation states for greater participatory democracy facilitated by social media platforms.

A good starting point would be to ask what was Mark Zuckerberg's vision when he brough Facebook to the markeplace on September 26, 2006**, greater access to democratic channels or dollar signs?

"When people ask me what, in my opinion, is necessary to make social media better for political activism" Dr Anita Breuer of the German Development Institute points out. "I...make it crystal clear to them that Facebook is neither their friend nor a tool designed for the promotion of democracy. It is a profit orientated corporation, and if what is needed to make a profit is co-operation with a country's secret service, your safest bet is that they will co-operate."
In truth, we are rabbits caught in the headlights of the possibility of a new, interconnected global democracy, now, we just have to wait for the next move....
* Mohamed Morsi was removed from power on July 3, 2013, by the military.
**There were versions of 'Facebook' before this date, but this seems to be where the corporate history starts.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting piece.
    I have long thought that social media has the capacity to empower people, in particular those who wish to remain anonymous through an alter-ego, or who would lack the courage or ability to make their feelings known in face to face situations of all sorts.
    Within social media situations, I believe individuals are emboldened to reveal their innermost thoughts, in what they see as a somewhat safe and alternative environment. Social Media also has the ability to enable fast physical mobilisation of its online population, for the purposes of anything from meeting for coffee or having an impromptu party, right through to protesting about the dealings of the Government, or whatever else irks most of us on a day-to-day basis - as well, it has to be said, as the hideously negative potential for those with various nefarious activities in mind, to peddle their vile filth.
    I personally feel all this was probably far from the mind of Facebook's creators, who may well have designed the facility purely as a means of instant and far-reaching positive communication between "friends" of varying degrees - who knows? But such is the power of the internet, that we live in times where such applications can be used for all other manner of communication and expression, too. In the times of dissatisfaction and disenfranchisement in which we now live, I believe, the time is ripe for the man in the street to make his voice heard, and what better and easier way to do so than by using the latest technology..........we are, after all, supposed to have freedom of speech, in this country at least, and a lone voice of protest never seems to do any good, or bring about any real change. It would appear that times are a-changing, and as fast as modern technology will allow - which is very fast indeed.