Friday, March 16, 2012

Cute Cats and the Arab Spring - Assignment 2, Text 3

Ethan Zuckerman, Director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, delivered the 2nd Annual Vancouver Human Rights Lecture in 2011. The lecture was subsequently broadcast as an episode of CBC's Ideas radio program. Zuckerman's lecture, Cute Cats and the Arab Spring, is a wide-ranging reflection on the impact of social media in human rights movements. He contends that the role of new media in collective action falls somewhere between Malcolm Gladwell's (2010) stance - Why the revolution will not be tweeted - and Clay Shirky's (2008) stance, which emphasizes the ridiculously easy group formation possible in a Web 2.0 environment. Zuckerman points out the complexity of group formation through examples of protests in Egypt and Tunisia, which relied on rich media ecologies that included, but were not solely based on, social media.

Zuckerman also discusses the effectiveness of tools such as Facebook and Twitter for collective action. The power of social media, according to Zuckerman, lies in the fact that these tools were designed for sharing photos and videos of cute cats - which resulted in broad reach, ease of use, and devoted users. Such platforms have proved politically dangerous for governments to censor: if governments take down social media sites, they disrupt the activities of a large proportion of the population, bring attention to causes, and inadvertently assist protesters.

Because social media sites have proved so useful for collective action and for documenting human rights issues, Zuckerman warns that such public digital spaces must be protected. He describes the difficulty in posting controversial material in countries such as China, and the ways that participants find ways to subvert censorship. He also points out that there is some danger in relying on corporations to provide these spaces, as few of us are aware of our rights regarding the material we post. He calls for a "magna carta movement" to ensure that public digital spaces remain available for collective action.

Delicious stack for the three texts I've chosen.


Gladwell, M. (2010). Why the revolution will not be tweeted. The New Yorker.

Shirky, C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody. New York: Penguin.

Zuckerman, E. The Vancouver Human Rights Lecture - Cute Cats and The Arab Spring. [Audio Recording].

1 comment:

  1. In case the Delicious stack link falls short: