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PORTSIDE  January 2011, Week 3

PORTSIDE January 2011, Week 3

Subject:

Social Media, Netroots, WikiLeaks - Tools of Struggle - England and Tunisia (2 posts)

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Social Media, Netroots, WikiLeaks - Tools of Struggle - England and Tunisia (2 posts)

1. Netroots UK: Anatomy of a Movement (Jennifer O'Mahony in
   New Left Project)


2. Can WikiLeaks and Social Media Help Fuel Revolutions? -
   The Case of Tunisia (Burcu Bakioglu and Peter Ludlow in
   AlterNet)

==========

Netroots UK: Anatomy of a Movement

by Jennifer O'Mahony

New Left Project

First published: 11 January, 2011

http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/article_comments/netroots_the_lowdown/

The world is upside down. Tim Montgomerie is gently mocking
himself, to appreciative laughter, in a room full of the
same left-wing bloggers who daily accuse him of spreading
lies on Twitter. Meanwhile, Polly Toynbee and Laurie Penny
are being roundly criticised with the same medium for being
irrelevant or bourgeois-in-denial respectively. Such is the
nature of the new `movement', where irreverence is king and
the awful old Politburo structures of the left have
collapsed, leaving behind something quite remarkable:
pluralism.

How have we got to this point? How have things evolved in
the last few months? Allow me to analyse each of the
factions present at Netroots UK, the gathering of online
`progressives' - an umbrella term encompassing leftists and
left-liberals - hosted earlier this week by the TUC.

THE TRIBES

Unions

The TUC are starting to understand how a modern movement
that involves the unions might look. Brendan Barber's best
moment was in praising "a unique progressive coalition".
Progressivism was not in the union lexicon until extremely
recently, and his speech was well aimed and gave the
impression of the unions as partners, not overbearing
autocrats.

Labour

Labour are running scared. Unable to condone the protesters
due to the violence that occurred, all Labour was able to
muster was Stella Creasy MP, elected in May, and Tom Watson
MP, who said "vote Labour" and then left. Creasy tried to
play the `Remember how bad things were under the Tories last
time' card, telling the audience "Thirteen years ago we were
part of a manifesto that tried to get rid of outside toilets
in schools". I spotted various staffers and junior
politicos, who blended in well with the predominantly young
demographic. They were obviously on reconaissance missions
for their party, and presumably delivered bad news, as
Labour bashing was one of the main themes of the day. One
journalist on a national newspaper said to me "Where is Ed
Miliband? He ought to be here". When your own NUS President
won't support you, I suppose His Edship is a little much to
expect.

The Americans

Media Matters for America, i3 strategies, Daily Kos and
various other consultant types were present, making everyone
feel unprofessional and scruffy in comparison. The emphasis
was on partnership across the Atlantic, and using models
that have been successful in campaigning in the US to fight
for causes here, such as opposing Murdoch's BskyB takeover
and the establishment of a UK FoxNews. Ari Rabin-Havt,
Executive Vice-President at Media Matters, told the
assembled group "Let's increase this transatlantic trade of
ideas", inviting activists to attend Netroots Nation, the
inspiration for Netroots UK, in Milwaukee this summer. When
I asked him what struck him most about working with UK
activists, he said "What's been enlightening for me is how
Netroots activists in the UK and the US are focussed on the
exact same issues and fighting the exact same fights. You
guys in Britain are lucky you come from a much more social
perspective that we don't have. You're fighting to save the
NHS as opposed to creating an NHS."

The conservative

A tribe of one, Tim Montgomerie spoke eloquently on blogs
and the wrongheaded approach to hits that many bloggers
have. "What I'm interested in is do Conservative MPs read
ConservativeHome, do journalists read ConservativeHome and
do activists read ConservativeHome? Are we influencing the
influencers? Frankly any normal person reading about seat
selection is not a normal person... Go for the issues no one
else is looking at".

He also thinks the left is far too polite when it comes to
Labour. "[The left] is too partisan... criticising your own
party is an important thing. I happen to think that if the
blogosphere had been around in the days of Tony Blair, some
of the problems that emerged with that project might not
have become so embedded".

Refreshingly focussed, Montgomerie charmed the room,
especially when he said that Netroots could be the start of
"something special" for the left. I exited feeling a little
bit dirty.

The moderates

One of the biggest points of contention at Netroots was the
vehicle by which the `movement' wanted to enact change:
Parliament or protest? The moderates, embodied here by Sunny
Hundal, argued that radicalism equated to sticking your head
firmly in the sand. "We need to build a movement here that
is outside of Labour and it will be within Labour too... we
need to stop saying these guys are too middle-of-the-road
for me. OK fine, they don't represent you, do your own
thing, but what are you doing? How are you mobilising
people, how are you forcing the right on the defensive?
Right now all we're doing is sitting there and complaining.
That's all we're doing".

The radicals

"We're listening politely whilst appointed arbiters of the
centre-left mow the grassroots into a neat, acceptable
bourgeois lawn #netrootsuk". She pulls no punches. Laurie
Penny (later mocked for tweeting this from a presumably
proletarian iPad) was highly critical of attempts to make
the movement `respectable' at the expense of grassroots
participation and energy. In the feminism session that took
place in the afternoon, one wing of the radicals came
together to voice its distaste for parliamentary process,
and for the perceived sexism of "shoving us all [women] in
one room". Lisa Ansell in particular seemed intent on
arguing that nothing vaguely linked to mainstream politics
was acceptable, and that lobbying for change through the law
was futile. After all, women were given the right to vote,
the right to an abortion, the right to be treated fairly in
the workplace and the right to own property when married
through - what's that? Legislation you say? How unspeakably
bourgeois!

The actual activists, and miscellaneous others

All the activists present who were there to learn and to
educate others on their work were the real stars of the
conference, plus representatives from charities, the
charming Frenchman from La Tribune, marauding slebs like
Johann Hari, the man who shouted to the assembled company,
of Tim Montgomerie, "don't TRUST THAT MAN, HE SEEMS CHARMING
BUT [he was shushed at this point. I would like to speculate
he might have said "he is George Osborne in the disguise of
a Crew Clothing advert"]. There was a real feeling of, dare
I say it, solidarity amongst those who weren't there simply
to give their opinion, but for the purpose of taking
something back to their micro-communities and organisations.
All the `framing the narrative' in the world won't make one
iota of difference if it isn't followed up by the hard work
done by people like those at 38 Degrees, False Economy, and
The F Word.

[Jennifer O'Mahony is a writer and journalist, currently
working at The Nation magazine in New York. Her articles
have been published by The Guardian and Liberal Conspiracy.]

==========

Can WikiLeaks and Social Media Help Fuel Revolutions?
The Case of Tunisia

	Facebook, Twitter and WikiLeaks seem to have played
	important roles in the overthrow of Tunisia's
	dictator

by Burcu Bakioglu and Peter Ludlow

AlterNet.org

January 17, 2011

http://www.alternet.org/vision/149564/vision%3A_can_wikileaks_and_social_media_help_fuel_revolutions_the_case_of_tunisia/

On January 14, 2011, Tunisian strongman Zine El Abidine Ben
Ali was forced from office, and by some accounts he thereby
became the first political casualty of the age of Wikileaks
and social media.  Social media sites such as Facebook and
Twitter provided communication outlets for many of Tunisia's
unemployed youths. Tunisians posted amateur videos of police
repression, firing squads and riots on their personal
profiles from their homes and cybercafes. Relatives living
abroad were then able to view the videos that were posted on
Facebook and linked them to profiles that subsequently
appeared on newsfeeds back in Tunisia. It rapidly became
impossible for Ben Ali to control the information flow
within Tunisia despite his ability to control all other
media outlets. So important were the social media reports,
that for the first two weeks of the protests, Al Jazeera and
France24's footage was exclusively provided by Tunisian
social media users.

Equally noteworthy is that the revolution seemed to have
jelled days after Wikileaks released a secret cable, written
in 2008 by Ambassador Robert F. Godec that seemed to make it
vivid that the external world saw his corruption as clearly
as the Tunisians did. As Godec put it in the leaked cable,
"...beyond the stories of the First Family's shady dealings,
Tunisians report encountering low-level corruption as well
in interactions with the police, customs, and a variety of
government ministries... With those at the top believed to
be the worst offenders, and likely to remain in power, there
are no checks in the system." The Tunisian Government, the
Ambassador wrote, seemed to believe that "what's yours is
mine". Was the leaked document significant? Libya's Moammar
Khadaffi certainly thought so, speculating that the US
Government had leaked the cables through Wikileaks
specifically to foment revolution in Tunisia.

No sooner did talk of a Wikileaks revolution or Facebook
revolution surface than pushback came. Laila Lalami, a Los
Angeles-based writer from Morocco, wrote on Twitter, "Please
stop trying to give credit to WikiLeaks, or Twitter, or
YouTube for the toppling of Ben Ali. The Tunisian people did
it." Later, she tweeted that "The Internet facilitates
communication, but it alone doesn't keep people in the
streets for four weeks." Meanwhile Adrian Chen, writing in
the tech-savy and snarky Valleywag derisively said "Nobody's
citing Foursquare yet, but it's only a matter of time before
some journalist finds a few protestors checking into a
riot."

The comments above (all from outside Tunisia, it should be
noted) seemed to echo a view put forward a recent article in
The New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell argued that the
political impact of social-media based protests has been
minimal, and that this was entirely predictable. Drawing
upon the famous lunch counter sit-in in Greensboro North
Carolina in 1960, Gladwell observed that the initial four
participants in that protest were childhood friends. They
had strong personal ties, and great trust in each other, and
it was the strength of these ties that made their risk
taking possible. In Gladwell's view, social networks yield
only weak ties; revolutionary political action requires
strong ties.

More significantly, Gladwell claimed that political action
organized through social networks - what he disparagingly
called "Facebook activism" - "succeeds not by motivating
people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do
the things that people do when they are not motivated enough
to make a real sacrifice."

Gladwell's point was not entirely off target. Risk-taking
political action probably does require close social ties.
However it would be a blunder to think that social media are
only utilized by people with weak ties. As we will see, in
this case social media were valuable tools for people with
close ties and much at risk.

==========

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