Archives for the month of: October, 2013

Social movements throughout history have used the technology available to them to further their cause, most notably the use of the printing press to aid the American colonies in their independence.  Literature could be printed in mass amounts and handed out to the public, not so different from how information today gets passed around.  A quick tweet can reach hundreds of thousands of people within seconds, and if it goes viral, even more.  Clay Shirky, in his essay “The Political Power of Social Media – Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political Change,” (2011) sums it up well by saying; “Social media increase shared awareness by propagating messages through social network.”  But what does this mean for the people’s movement?

Image

Image from theblogofprogress.com

Of course, movements like the Civil Rights movement and the Suffragettes did not have social media as we know it today and yet were still successful, but in today’s society, it is hard to imagine a movement without thinking of its online presence.  When thinking of the Occupy movement, #occupy and pictures of police brutality that had gone viral come to my mind almost immediately.  In fact, I first learned about the Occupy movement from Twitter!

The video above shows the police brutality that was seen during the Occupy Wall Street protests. Bystanders were pepper sprayed by police forces.

Image

Image from aljazeera.com

The recent turmoil in Egypt has reached the public eye in a very real way; with photos and videos of the revolution being uploaded to social media as it happens, the public can see with their own eyes the injustice those afflicted are feeling.  Sarah Joseph (2012) even brings up the point that many of the images that are uploaded are images that cannot be seen in mainstream media.  So not only are you seeing firsthand accounts of these injustices, but you are seeing images that you would not be able to see any other way.

The Arab Spring and Occupy, for the most part, are non-violent protests and examples of what has become known as cyberwar (Johnston, 2000), which is a more civilized version of traditional fighting; so instead of blood and guts fighting, social media is a platform for fighting with words.  Social media allows for information and different viewpoints to be accessed quickly, letting people develop their own arguments.  It  gives them a platform on which to debate those arguments, free from government persecution.

Image

Image from blog.klout.com

The above graph shows the numbers of retweets per day over a 75-day period during the Occupy Movement; over 394,463 tweets were retweeted when NYPD cleared Zuccotti Part in November of the protesters!

            The success, or lack thereof, of the Occupy movement can be debated all day, but what is certain is the impact of the movement on social media.  Even if you do not support the Occupy protestors, you know what the movement is about.  You have seen the Facebook posts, the tweets, and the pictures that have gone viral.  You are now aware of the cause they are peacefully fighting for, and is that not part of the point?  Is it not important to bring the injustice of the situation to the consciousness of the public?

Image

Image from outsidetheirbox.com

As Thich Nhat Hanh said in regards to Thich Quang Duc, a Vietnamese monk who set himself on fire in protest in 1963, “you have to do something extraordinary to make yourself heard,” (Johnston, 2000).  Whether it be the Occupy protesters sitting in Zuccotti Park for days on end or the Egyptians overthrowing their leader, they did something extraordinary, thanks in part to the social media they used to plan and showcase the protest.  Social media gains these types of movements the support they need to be successful; the more people they reach, the more pressure is put on the ruling body to do something about the injustice.  But again, it was not social media that overthrew Mubarak, but the people.   So maybe it is not so much that social media is the key to a social movement’s success, but it definitely unlocks a door on the way to success.  What do you think? Is social media a key to success? Or does it double lock the door?

References

  1. Shirky, C. (2011) ‘The political power of social media – technology, the public sphere, and political change’, Foreign Affairs, Vol 90 (1). Retrieved from http://heinonline.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.journals/fora90&div=8&g_sent=1&collection=journals#42
  2. Johnston, Josée (2000) ‘Pedagogical guerrillas, armed democrats, and revolutionary counter publics: Examining paradox in the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico’, Theory and Society, Vol 29 (4): 463-505.
  3. Joseph, S. (2012). Social media, political change, and human rights. Boston College International and Comparative Law Review35 (1), 145-188. Retrieved from http://heinonline.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.journals/bcic35&div=6&collection=journals&set_as_cursor=1&men_tab=srchresults&terms=90 Foreign Aff. 28&type=matchall

In the past, development took place mostly in the form of colonization.  Powerful countries, like Britain, would go to their colonies and begin the process of development to better the economies of said colonies.  It probably did not hurt that Britain would also benefit economically in the process.  Prior to the 1929 Colonial Development Act, assistance was only given to colonies when needed, such as after a natural disaster or crop failure.  After the act was enacted, colonial assistance was “given only after a systematic examination of all schemes and projects put forth by the colonial governments,” (Abbott, 1971) which in the end, due to the restrictiveness of the act, did not help the colonies much with bettering their own economies.

But what does this mean for development now?  In terms of development, I believe that those countries that used to be colonizers give more money to those countries that were once their colonies than to other recipients.  Their special relationship means that former colonizers already have interests in the former colonies and we have to be sure that those interests do not interfere with the country’s development.

Image

Image from abagond.wordpress.com

Colonization, even with its positive aspects, did, in part, cause the underdevelopment of some societies.  As George Abbot brought up in his discussion on the 1929 Colonial Development Act, the act helped Britain more than it did the colonies it was designed for.  It reduced the levels of unemployment in the British mainland and stimulated exports, but did not bring many positive impacts to the colonies themselves.  Critics even argue that the act, while supposed to be promoting colonial development, actually worked against it, citing reasons like the act was too restrictive and it made broad distinctions that left out important projects, like building schools (Abbott, 1971).  So with these reasons in mind, can you tell me how this act was supposed make a difference, when it seems that all it did was restrict the colonies chances of actually receiving aid?

Presently, it is interesting to note that former colonies, such as India and Africa, receive sizable amounts of aid from their former colonizers, in this case, Britain.  In 2011, the UK gave £295 million in assistance to India (BBC, 2011).  The following graph shows the countries in which UK aid is given.  Compare this graph with the map of the British Empire above.  Do you notice any similarities?

Britain's aid map

Image from theguardian.com

Aid is focused in India and the Eastern coast of Africa, which in the past, were British colonies.

Whether aid is given either bilaterally or multilaterally, the money often comes with a use for it already attached.  Where the money goes is sometimes where the money is not needed, which does not do much in way of helping recipient countries develop.  The current aid system often reminds me of colonial era aid with all the hoops that recipient countries have to jump through to receive help.

Robert Fletcher, in his article entitled “The Act of Forgetting: imperialist amnesia and public secrecy,” (2012) cites a perpetual lack of acknowledgement of how colonization and globalization affected currently underdeveloped countries.  Fletcher uses a report published by the UN’s Department of Social and Economic Affairs that claims underdeveloped societies are less developed due to “internal obstacles” within the society, such as “ancient philosophies, old social institutions, bonds of cast, creed, and race, and simple lack of motivation,” meaning things such as a society’s culture are to blame for their being underdeveloped. What the UN fails to claim, however, is how colonization has led to this systematic underdevelopment of some societies.  The age of colonization and globalization, in part, led to the current distribution of wealth in our society: the gap between wealth and poverty is ever widening, with the rich getting richer and poor becoming poorer, and the UN report is only one example of people conveniently forgetting colonization’s impact on underdeveloped countries.

Not everyone may agree with me, but I think that current aid procedures, and their recipients, is oddly reminiscent of colonial era aid.  Many of the same countries are receiving the aid, just now they are not colonies anymore.  Does that not strike a chord with anyone else?  It is as if the past has been forgotten, but why is there a problem with people forgetting the past? They are bound to repeat it.  For example, when I was younger, I would eat so many grilled cheeses (or a toastie if I am going to be British about it) that I would get sick and would not touch another one for months.  A few years later, I happened to forget the whole ordeal and it happened all over again!

But on a more serious note, unless aid procedures change, the problems that arose during colonization are bound to occur again.  I do not find much of a difference between then and now and I think Western countries, like the UK, should look upon their past with a discerning eye and see where they went wrong and see how they can change so it does not happen again.

Image

Image from rhapsodyinbooks.wordpress.com

(Basically me as a child…)

References:

1. Abbott, George (1971) ‘A Re-Examination of the 1929 Colonial Development Act’, The Economic History Review, New Series, Vol. 24 (1): 68-81

2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-12607537

3. Fletcher, Robert (2012) ‘The Art of Forgetting: imperialist amnesia and public secrecy’, Third World Quarterly, 33:3, 423-439