Cyberconflict and Global Politics: New Media, War, Digital Activism

Athina Karatzogianni has just edited another informative book, this one on “Cyberconflict and Global Politics.” I blog-reviewed her previous book on “The Politics of Cyberconflict” here after meeting Athina at Politics 2.0 back in 2008. This blog posts consists of book notes for my dissertation research.

Athina authors the first chapter on “New Media and the Reconfiguration of Power in Global Politics.” Some relevant excerpts:

  • The information revolution is altering the nature of conflict by strengthening network forms of organization over hierarchical forms.
  • Dissidents against governments are able to use a variety of Internet-based techniques [...] to spread alternative frames for events and a possible alternative online democratic sphere. An example of dissidents’ use of the Internet is spamming e-magazines to an unprecedented number of people within China, a method which provides recipients with ‘plausible deniability.’

The second chapter authored by Hall Gardner addresses “War and the Media Paradox.”

  • While the prospects of instant communication had been hailed as a means to prevent conflict and to help negotiate an end to disputes and wars [...] one of the major paradoxes is that a number of media inventions are actually helping to cause, if not perpetuate, social and political conflict in general.
  • In China [...] just prior to the Tiananmen Square repression in June 1989, it had been the transistor radio that provided alternative views to those of the government.

The third chapter on “The Internet as a weapon of war” is primarily focused on news and as such is not directly relevant to my research. Chapter 4 on “Transparency and Accountability in the Age of Cyberpolitics” by Maori Touri has an interesting reference to Kant:

  • The impact of transparency and publicity on human behavior is hardly new with Kant being amongst the first to argue that the principlesof human action could be ethical only if they were public.

The fifth chapter by Michael Dartnell addresses “Web Activism as an Element of Global Security.”

  • While the World Wide Web and information technologies (IT) that emerged over the past decade have a transformative impact on global security, neither they nor the expectations that they arouse are unique to our time. In “The Radio as an Apparatus of Communication”, Bertolt Brecht argued that

The radio would be the finest possible communication apparatus in public life [...] if it knew how to receive as well as transmit, how to let the listener speak as well as hear, how to bring him into a relationship instead of isolating him.

  • As James Katz and Ronald Rice suggest, ‘although the Internet has not led to any political revolutions, it has supported and encouraged them (as have—and do—the phone and fax)’ (Katz and Rice 2002:352).
  • Web activism is a form of electronic direct action in which previous one-way media are superseded by global communications devices. [...]. As Miekle notes, ‘Internet activism is largely about raising awareness of the issues concerned, and this means more coverage than the purely online’ (Miekle 2002:26).
  • The telegraph [...] was an innovation that facilitated European imperialism and helped consolidate global dominance.
  • Instead of a tool for revolutionary transformation, Web activism is a powerful new method for political organizations of all stripes in precise circumstances that favor their messages.
  • The evaluation [of the impact of IT on IR] needs to be conducted in a variety of ways since the impacts are in fact a diverse body of content.

Chapter 6 on “The Laws of the Playground” is not relevant to my research nor is chapter 7 on “Information Warfare Operations within the Concept of Individual Self-Defense”. Chapters 8 and 9 are interesting but not directly informative for my dissertation: “The Internet and Militant Jihadism”, and “How Small are Small Numbers in Cyberspace?” Chapter 10 focuses on a case study of Sri Lanka while Chapter 11 draws on the case study of Women in Black.

Chapter 12 by Graham Meikle is on “Electronic Civil Disobedience and Symbolic Power.”

  • Electronic Civil Disobedience [ECD] is a key example of the Internet’s capacity to enable users to exercise what Castells terms ‘counter-power’—’the capacity by social actors to challenge and eventually change the power relations institutionalized in society’ (2007:248).
  • However, the discourse of ECD is contested, and where its proponents seek to align it with the civil disobedience tradition of Thoreau, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, it is frequently implicated in other discourses: in the concept of ‘hactivism'; in the concept of ‘netwar'; and in debates about terrorism.
  • [In 1994, the Critical Art Ensemble] aligned the concept of electronic civil disobedience with the widely-understood principles of traditional civil disobedience [...]. There were continuities [...] such as the use of trespass and blockades as central tactics. However, there were also discontinuities, such as the de-emphasizing of mass participation in favor of decentralized, cell-based organization [and] that electronic civil disobedience should be surreptitious, in the hacker tradition.
  • Where practitioners of civil disobedience have been transparent about their opposition [... the Critical Art Ensemble] argued for a clandestine approach, proposing electronic disobedience as ‘an underground activity that should be kept out of the public/popular sphere (as in the hacker tradition) and the eye of the media’ (CAE 2001: 14).
  • [There is a dilemma for activists] in that while the news media are drawn to novelty and disruption, their coverage is also more likely to focus on that very novelty and disruption than on the underlying issues or causes involved, which may in fact work against the activist cause (Scalmer 2002:41).
  • [One challenge for activists] is not just to formulate new strategies and tactics appropriate to a shifting mediascape, but to recognize the ongoing need to create a careful vocabulary for discussing those tactics and strategies.
  • ‘The information revolution is favoring and strengthening network forms of organization, often giving them an advantage of hierarchical forms. The rise of networks means that power is migrating to nonstate actors, because they are able to organize into sprawling multiorganizational networks [...] more readily than can traditional, hierarchical, state actors. This means that conflicts may increasingly be waged by ‘networks’, perhaps more than by ‘hierarchies’. It also means that whoever masters the network form stands to gain the advantage’ (Arquilla and Ronfeld 2001a: 1).

The final two chapters focus on a case study of the European Social Forum and capitalism respectively.

Patrick Philippe Meier

2 responses to “Cyberconflict and Global Politics: New Media, War, Digital Activism

  1. Interesting reflections. The book seems to have been published a year or so ago, and just come out in paperback, unless Amazon is engaged in some form of cyberwar/deception.

  2. Pingback: Cyclones in Cyberspace? How Crowdsourced Cyber Warfare Shaped the Russian-Georgia War | iRevolution

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