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Twitter at the Gates? Social Media, Leaderless Organization, & Revolutionary Theory Sabrina Hoque PhD Candidate, Dalhousie University Sean Clark Visiting.

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Presentation on theme: "Twitter at the Gates? Social Media, Leaderless Organization, & Revolutionary Theory Sabrina Hoque PhD Candidate, Dalhousie University Sean Clark Visiting."— Presentation transcript:

1 Twitter at the Gates? Social Media, Leaderless Organization, & Revolutionary Theory Sabrina Hoque PhD Candidate, Dalhousie University Sean Clark Visiting Assistant Professor, Memorial University ISA Conference, March 2012 Sabrina Hoque PhD Candidate, Dalhousie University Sean Clark Visiting Assistant Professor, Memorial University ISA Conference, March 2012

2  “The absence of structure, leadership, and formal organization, once considered a weakness, has become a major asset. Seemingly chaotic groups have challenged and defeated established institutions. The rules of the game have changed.” Brafman & Beckstrom, (2006).  “In attempting to escape from the clutches of heroic leadership, we now seem enthralled by its apparent opposite—distributed leadership: in this post-heroic era we will all be leaders so that none are.” Grint, (2010).  “The absence of structure, leadership, and formal organization, once considered a weakness, has become a major asset. Seemingly chaotic groups have challenged and defeated established institutions. The rules of the game have changed.” Brafman & Beckstrom, (2006).  “In attempting to escape from the clutches of heroic leadership, we now seem enthralled by its apparent opposite—distributed leadership: in this post-heroic era we will all be leaders so that none are.” Grint, (2010).

3 Introduction  The 2011 ‘Arab Spring’ made for powerful television.  1. Was a remarkable display of courageous civilians protesters standing up to repressive, well-armed, autocratic rulers.  Followed by, in the case of Tunisia & Egypt, bringing down the govt of the day.  2. Just as noteworthy: protests appeared to have happened spontaneously, without direction.  Appears that there was no revolutionary leader in the mold of Lenin or Mao, no singular figure to shepherd the protests from uprising to victory.  Raises an interesting theoretical #: how vital are leaders to revolutions today?  Conventional literature (though poli sci rarely looks at leadership): leaders are vital.  Look to Lenin as template: you need elite ‘vanguards’ to bring down state & maintain the spoils.  Tilly, Laqueur: take away Tito, Lenin, or Castro & these revs fail.  Yet new argument: social media has transformed collective action—no longer need centralized direction for group mobilization & coordination.  Proponents: Facebook, Twitter & other social media permit decisions to be made by popular consensus, rather than a reliance on traditional leadership structures.  Instead of hierarchy, have decentralization.  Scott & Street: “organized spontaneity”; Shirky: “flash activism.”; Ross: ‘leaderless revolutions’. OWS: “We are all leaders.”  Our paper is to test whether or not this is actually the case.  The 2011 ‘Arab Spring’ made for powerful television.  1. Was a remarkable display of courageous civilians protesters standing up to repressive, well-armed, autocratic rulers.  Followed by, in the case of Tunisia & Egypt, bringing down the govt of the day.  2. Just as noteworthy: protests appeared to have happened spontaneously, without direction.  Appears that there was no revolutionary leader in the mold of Lenin or Mao, no singular figure to shepherd the protests from uprising to victory.  Raises an interesting theoretical #: how vital are leaders to revolutions today?  Conventional literature (though poli sci rarely looks at leadership): leaders are vital.  Look to Lenin as template: you need elite ‘vanguards’ to bring down state & maintain the spoils.  Tilly, Laqueur: take away Tito, Lenin, or Castro & these revs fail.  Yet new argument: social media has transformed collective action—no longer need centralized direction for group mobilization & coordination.  Proponents: Facebook, Twitter & other social media permit decisions to be made by popular consensus, rather than a reliance on traditional leadership structures.  Instead of hierarchy, have decentralization.  Scott & Street: “organized spontaneity”; Shirky: “flash activism.”; Ross: ‘leaderless revolutions’. OWS: “We are all leaders.”  Our paper is to test whether or not this is actually the case.

4 Case Studies: Selection Criteria  So why do we focus particularly on Tunisia and Egypt? What commonalities do they share with respect to the role of leadership and how the revolutions played out?  In this presentation, we highlight 3 similarities  1. Both had tech-savvy, frustrated youth who took to venting online – believing it to be a safe, neutral forum with no political messaging  What emerged was a new vanguard in the form of Cyber-groups, campaigning for ‘freedom’  2. Government made several efforts to censor communication. This left civilians with few options for credible sources of information.  This only resulted in the development of new technologies and means to speedily organize demonstrations and disseminate information widely.  3. And finally, protesters in both cases did not turn to established organizations, such as political parties for organizational support. Campaign was rather apolitical and non-partisan  While offering their support, established political parties were nonetheless kept at bay (ie the Tunisian ‘Ennahda’ & Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood)  So why do we focus particularly on Tunisia and Egypt? What commonalities do they share with respect to the role of leadership and how the revolutions played out?  In this presentation, we highlight 3 similarities  1. Both had tech-savvy, frustrated youth who took to venting online – believing it to be a safe, neutral forum with no political messaging  What emerged was a new vanguard in the form of Cyber-groups, campaigning for ‘freedom’  2. Government made several efforts to censor communication. This left civilians with few options for credible sources of information.  This only resulted in the development of new technologies and means to speedily organize demonstrations and disseminate information widely.  3. And finally, protesters in both cases did not turn to established organizations, such as political parties for organizational support. Campaign was rather apolitical and non-partisan  While offering their support, established political parties were nonetheless kept at bay (ie the Tunisian ‘Ennahda’ & Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood)

5 Tunisia Offline Community Online Community Youtube Viewers Friends & Supporters Bouazizi Traditional Revolutionary figure would emerge Trigger  The Tunisian ‘Jasmine Revolution’ was triggered by the actions of one man who had been publicly humiliated by a police officer.  Mohamed Bouazizi was acting out in desperation and frustration over the manner in which the economy was being run by the government.  What started out as the dissatisfaction of Bouazizi and 30 of his peers, soon came to be representative of the larger Tunisian population’s concerns  Video footage of the protests circulated the internet with the help of Youtube and Twitter, and spread the message like wildfire.  There was a socio-economic focus on unemployment, high food prices, and a general sense of alienation, particularly among the youth.  This is different from traditional forms of revolutionary protests as there was absent a clear figurehead role model, spearheading the movement  What we instead found happening was the online community coming together amd using Facebook to organize the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and Youtube to spread the message not only with fellow members, but also the rest of the world.  Their rage against the government was further amplified when then President Ben Ali responded to peaceful protestors with violence.  Tens of thousands of Tunisian youth took to the streets, demanding his resignation.

6 Percent of Tunisian Blogs With Posts on Politics (By Keyword)  What is interesting to note here about the Tunisian case study is the increasing level of dialogue that took place online, and how that subsequently shifted direction shortly after Ben Ali resigned from his position.  Online discussions on ‘Revolution’, ‘Liberty’ and ‘Ben Ali’ still continued even after the president had resigned – this was because Tunisians were fearful of the political parties that were emerging, all too eager to fill the political vacuum.  For example, Mohamed Ghannouchi, upon Ben Ali’s resignation, proclaimed himself interim president. However, his affiliations with the old regime having held various ministerial posts raised eyebrows and fear amongst Tunisians.  They were fearful that no change would come about – they weren’t just looking for a change in leadership, they demanded an overhaul of the constitution  Using Facebook to organize themselves, they had an even larger gathering than those calling for Ben Ali’s resignation.

7  Egypt has been recognized as the most connected of countries in Africa and as a hub for internet and mobile network investment, having pioneered free dial-up services and achieved impressive rates of access and use.  This easy access to the internet arguably allowed human rights activists to post stories and videos on the internet.  For example, you see in the picture on the top left – a woman is being stripped and dragged by the Egyptian police in the middle of Tahrir Square.  Such images and videos documenting human rights abuses and injustices taking place at the hands of government police officers would be widely circulated, ultimately culminating in what you see in the picture on the top left: a mass uprising in Tahrir Square.  What’s important to recognize here is that Tunisia was not a pioneer in its use of new media tools for political activism and for rallying support.  The political force of ‘social media and technology’ was first noted in the MENA region when a group of prominent Egyptian online bloggers, well-known for their political activism, started the ‘Kefaya Movement’.  The ‘Kefaya’ campaign, standing for ‘enough’, was led by an educated group of internet-savvy ‘elite urbanites’ that attempted to use social media to organize and coordinate demonstrations  Kefaya failed due to lost momentum, internal dissent, and leadership change.  The failure of Kefaya was an illustration of who didn’t get the message: the offline community.  Lack of access and unfamiliarity with online technology further divided the masses.  86% of Egyptians have television, but Internet access and PC ownership was almost exclusively available to the upper and upper middle classes.  Between 2006 and 2011, there was an exponential growth in Egypt of internet users: from 13% to 40%.  The difference between Kefaya and the Arab Spring in Egypt was that this time, through real-time transmission of information, the target audience received and understood the message. Egypt

8  Similar to how Tunisia’s rage was triggered by the death of one man, so too was Egypt’s frustrations amplified when video footage of human rights abuse at the hands of Egyptian police were broadcast through Youtube.  Wael Ghonim created a Facebook page as an expression of his angst – having faced police brutality himself – notably, the Arabic version of the page soon acquired over a million members and supporters.  Mubarak tried shutting down the Internet and social media – blocking Egypt from the rest of the world. However, he was not 100% successful.  For example, the Noor network still existed, which allowed network users to release their password protected wifi for anyone to access.  Meanwhile, tech-savvy activists developed innovative technological tools to continue their campaign.  For example, protesters had the option of calling in their updates as a voice message and almost instantaneously, it would be translated into a tweet on Twitter.  The number of messages exchanged online in Egypt went from 2,300 to 230,000 in the final weeks leading up to Mubarak’s resignation.  This is an illustration of the popularity of these online forums for the Egyptian people, and more importantly – that social media still very much existed, despite Mubarak’s attempts to quash access. …Egypt

9 Conclusions  1. Social connectivity does not guarantee unrest. Nor does its absence ensure peace.  Egypt was rife w protests in mid-’90s, long before cell phones became ubiquitous & the internet was on the rise  Thus let’s be wary of excessive claim to technological determinism. Political unrest is not totally reliant on technology.  2. Nevertheless, Tunisia & Egyptian cases verify the capacity for social media to decentralize mobilization & self-coordination.  ‘Cyber-utopians’ correct: can organize sustained campaign of mass protests w/o central direction.  Sustained long enough, can bring down even iron-fisted govts.  Just as importantly: online activity is not just a reflection of weak ties, as per Gladwell, nor is it emblematic of Morozov’s ‘slacktivism’.  Online videos of beaten kids can inspire high-risk behaviour even in the face of grave danger.  3. On the other hand: while leaderless groups can ‘paralyze’ a govt, they appear unsuited to capturing the state & constituting a new order.  ‘Leaderless’ groups can apply pressure, but they cannot by their nature offer an alternative ruler.  Is more of a ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ response to the options put forth by the regime’s remnants (again, think of the Tunisian case).  Look how difficult it has proven for opposition to coalesce during the election process.  Crucial caveat: these were cases where state was ‘hesitant’ (did not deploy all its might).  1. Must now consider why this is the case (perhaps popularly democratized movement is harder for govt to demonize?).  2. What is the role for social media & leadership when govt spares no force?  1. Social connectivity does not guarantee unrest. Nor does its absence ensure peace.  Egypt was rife w protests in mid-’90s, long before cell phones became ubiquitous & the internet was on the rise  Thus let’s be wary of excessive claim to technological determinism. Political unrest is not totally reliant on technology.  2. Nevertheless, Tunisia & Egyptian cases verify the capacity for social media to decentralize mobilization & self-coordination.  ‘Cyber-utopians’ correct: can organize sustained campaign of mass protests w/o central direction.  Sustained long enough, can bring down even iron-fisted govts.  Just as importantly: online activity is not just a reflection of weak ties, as per Gladwell, nor is it emblematic of Morozov’s ‘slacktivism’.  Online videos of beaten kids can inspire high-risk behaviour even in the face of grave danger.  3. On the other hand: while leaderless groups can ‘paralyze’ a govt, they appear unsuited to capturing the state & constituting a new order.  ‘Leaderless’ groups can apply pressure, but they cannot by their nature offer an alternative ruler.  Is more of a ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ response to the options put forth by the regime’s remnants (again, think of the Tunisian case).  Look how difficult it has proven for opposition to coalesce during the election process.  Crucial caveat: these were cases where state was ‘hesitant’ (did not deploy all its might).  1. Must now consider why this is the case (perhaps popularly democratized movement is harder for govt to demonize?).  2. What is the role for social media & leadership when govt spares no force?

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12 Introduction  2011 ‘Arab Spring’.  Protests appeared to have happened spontaneously, without direction.  Common argument: collapse of Tunisian, Egyptian, & Libya govts made possible by social media (‘Twitter Revolution’).  New age of ‘leaderless revolutions’ is now possible.  Our paper is to test whether or not this is the case.  2011 ‘Arab Spring’.  Protests appeared to have happened spontaneously, without direction.  Common argument: collapse of Tunisian, Egyptian, & Libya govts made possible by social media (‘Twitter Revolution’).  New age of ‘leaderless revolutions’ is now possible.  Our paper is to test whether or not this is the case.

13 Looking for Leadership  Expectation of the ‘leaderless revolution’ hypothesis is that monopoly (or duopoly) of decision-making is no longer necessary.  Can achieve these functions, thru social media, w/o a clearly defined leadership?  Argmt: as reach and interactivity have expanded, so too should responsiveness of movement to its grassroots supporters, and as such, there will be no longer a need for leadership in the traditional form.  Expectation of the ‘leaderless revolution’ hypothesis is that monopoly (or duopoly) of decision-making is no longer necessary.  Can achieve these functions, thru social media, w/o a clearly defined leadership?  Argmt: as reach and interactivity have expanded, so too should responsiveness of movement to its grassroots supporters, and as such, there will be no longer a need for leadership in the traditional form.

14 Analytical Framework  Evaluation of potential requires definition of the concepts.  A. Social media.  Is latest in a series of developments in communications technology.  Developments have impacted reach, speed of diffusion, capacity of info, accessibility (of consumption), creative usability, & interactivity.  1. Age of the fundamentals: speech (~ k YA, Homo erectus), art (~50k BC), & writing.  Clay pictographs of Uruk (~3300 BC), beginnings of writing.  Enabled an ability to transmit of incredible complexity.  2. Age of Mass Broadcast: 900 AD Chinese & mid-14thC European printing presses massive increase reach (1483 press = 1,025 scribes).  More books = greater diffusion of knowledge.  Combined w literacy from mid-18thC, a single message can now reach nationwide.  With film (1890s), radio (1920s), & TV (1930s), communication now becomes instantaneous nearly instantaneous & highly accessible (enjoy passively).  3. Age of Mass Connectivity: Morse’s 1837 telegraph & Bell et al’s 1870s telephone = now two-way communication (a network).  Information could be consumed and produced on both ends.  Accelerated w mobile telephony of ’80s & ‘90s. When combined w in ’00s, ‘Blackberry generation’ hardly ever off the network.  4. Age of Mass Interactivity: ‘web 2.0’ tools = more able to shape message.  YouTube, Twitter, Facebook = consumers become producers themselves.  Evaluation of potential requires definition of the concepts.  A. Social media.  Is latest in a series of developments in communications technology.  Developments have impacted reach, speed of diffusion, capacity of info, accessibility (of consumption), creative usability, & interactivity.  1. Age of the fundamentals: speech (~ k YA, Homo erectus), art (~50k BC), & writing.  Clay pictographs of Uruk (~3300 BC), beginnings of writing.  Enabled an ability to transmit of incredible complexity.  2. Age of Mass Broadcast: 900 AD Chinese & mid-14thC European printing presses massive increase reach (1483 press = 1,025 scribes).  More books = greater diffusion of knowledge.  Combined w literacy from mid-18thC, a single message can now reach nationwide.  With film (1890s), radio (1920s), & TV (1930s), communication now becomes instantaneous nearly instantaneous & highly accessible (enjoy passively).  3. Age of Mass Connectivity: Morse’s 1837 telegraph & Bell et al’s 1870s telephone = now two-way communication (a network).  Information could be consumed and produced on both ends.  Accelerated w mobile telephony of ’80s & ‘90s. When combined w in ’00s, ‘Blackberry generation’ hardly ever off the network.  4. Age of Mass Interactivity: ‘web 2.0’ tools = more able to shape message.  YouTube, Twitter, Facebook = consumers become producers themselves.

15 Testing the Impact of Social Media  Social networks & media have obviously had a notable impact.  Are the latest developments in a millennia-long process of increasing the reach, lowering the costs, and enhancing the information capacity of communications media.  Proliferation collaborative efforts like ‘iReporters’ and Wikipedia are evidence of this.  How well to the expectations of ‘leaderless revolutions’ match w practice?  For argument to hold, must see two things:  1. Is it clear that social media existed thru all stages of the political unrest (for proof that it proved an indispensible component)?  An event w/o Twittering would end debate.  Mere existence of social media, however, is not enough (may have had Twittering, but what if marginal to the organization of the movement).  2. Need to see how social media democratized leadership, i.e. took decision-making from hands of a few (traditionally the case) & placed it in the hands of the masses.  Thus need a hence of what leadership does for organization if looking to see if hierarchy has been replaced by ahierarchy.  Social networks & media have obviously had a notable impact.  Are the latest developments in a millennia-long process of increasing the reach, lowering the costs, and enhancing the information capacity of communications media.  Proliferation collaborative efforts like ‘iReporters’ and Wikipedia are evidence of this.  How well to the expectations of ‘leaderless revolutions’ match w practice?  For argument to hold, must see two things:  1. Is it clear that social media existed thru all stages of the political unrest (for proof that it proved an indispensible component)?  An event w/o Twittering would end debate.  Mere existence of social media, however, is not enough (may have had Twittering, but what if marginal to the organization of the movement).  2. Need to see how social media democratized leadership, i.e. took decision-making from hands of a few (traditionally the case) & placed it in the hands of the masses.  Thus need a hence of what leadership does for organization if looking to see if hierarchy has been replaced by ahierarchy.

16 Analytical Framework, II  Leadership.  Current literature suggests leaders contribute to collective action thru 2 main roles.  1. Vision articulation.  Leaders are needed to inspire members to join the collective, to inspire them to adopt a sense of group rationality rather than individual, provide a vision of a new and just order around which their followers unite their energies and their purposes.  Role is personified by the religious prophet.  2. Task & resource management.  Vision alone does not achieve success.  Must make hard choices regarding goals & the means to achieve them. Intense loyalty of group members, yet w/o regard for practical/logistical considerations = nothing more than a fanatical cult.  Personified by the general.  Given skill requirements involved, more likely to see two leaders atop the hierarchy (eg Jefferson & Washington, Lenin & Trotsky) than one person in both roles (eg Mohammad).  Leadership.  Current literature suggests leaders contribute to collective action thru 2 main roles.  1. Vision articulation.  Leaders are needed to inspire members to join the collective, to inspire them to adopt a sense of group rationality rather than individual, provide a vision of a new and just order around which their followers unite their energies and their purposes.  Role is personified by the religious prophet.  2. Task & resource management.  Vision alone does not achieve success.  Must make hard choices regarding goals & the means to achieve them. Intense loyalty of group members, yet w/o regard for practical/logistical considerations = nothing more than a fanatical cult.  Personified by the general.  Given skill requirements involved, more likely to see two leaders atop the hierarchy (eg Jefferson & Washington, Lenin & Trotsky) than one person in both roles (eg Mohammad).


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