My colleague Chris Doten asked me to suggest panelists for this congressional briefing on the role of new media in authoritarian states. Here are the highlights from Nathan Freitas‘s opening remarks along with my critiques:
- A bit of history on Twitter – the roots of this new media technology wave and specifically, Twitter, began in 2004 with an open source Web service called TXTmob. [...] So Twitter was born out of an activist movement, so it’s no surprise that it’s come full circle and is being used that way again.
- During the Second World War and the Cold War, inventors, mathematicians used the first digital computers to play a critical role in the Allies’ efforts to stay in front of the Axis. During the Civil Rights movement the use of telephones, telegraphs and traditional social networks in churches and universities created a foundation to mobilize supporters throughout the South. And in recent years, hackers, nerds and geeks like myself have gravitated towards the social justice, environmental and human rights movements.
- So the idea of two guys in a garage in Silicon Valley has translated into teams of activists around the world using Skype, Facebook and Twitter to innovate and develop new systems to use the same grassroots organizing and non-violence techniques that have come from Gandhi, but in a new era.
- The fascinating thing about what happened in Burma in 2007 was the emergence of the video journalist. Someone with a very cheap digital camera broadcasting their message using the Internet: instant messaging, FTP file transfer – and ending up on the BBC. [...] The idea that they could do that to cover their movement and even though the Saffron Revolution wasn’t successful, the impact they left in the world of activism about the possibility was very successful.
- The power of the moving image is unavoidable.
- In many cases, authoritarian states’ powers prove too formidable for new media technology. We saw this with Tibet in the uprisings last March. The only view that the world had of the uprising was from the Chinese state media. Internet was cut off, phone was cut off, reporters from around the world were blocked from accessing an area the size of Texas.
- However, the use of these tools brings serious risk to the user, their friends, family and broader movement. [...] So we need to spend more time focusing on protecting activists, protecting these generations that take 20 years to rebuild if they’re decimated.
Me: Just one comment on this last point, the issue of risk and protection is why I wrote up this Guide on How to Communicate Securely in Repressive Environments.