Tag: social networking sites


Do academics use Linkedin for anything? I inquire because a small, but not insignificant, number of people ask to join my network.

Their requests accumulate.

The auto-generated reminders become annoying.

I log into the site and expand my professional ties.

The process begins anew.

No other circumstances compel me to visit Linkedin. I suppose I could cancel my membership, but that seems like too much effort. Am I missing something?


Why states shouldn’t count on Facebook for foreign policy

My colleague, Ben O’Loughlin at Royal Holloway, has written a blog post on the potential consequences of states in the West, particularly the US and UK, increasingly relying on informal social networking of its citizens to promote foreign policy priorities. This would be a move away from the kind of ham-fisted attempts at public diplomacy seen in the wake of 9/11 aimed at getting Arab states to “like” the west to allowing every day citizens to debate the international issues of the day.

Thus, “The War on Terror” becomes the “The Long Change” – or changing people’s minds.

However, Ben points out several potentially huge flaws in this idea:
What is new is that this public diplomacy can be done by publics themselves through social media. The clumsy strategic communication officers of the state can stand back. This approach assumes that communication and connection between people across borders through social media can have a liberal, pluralizing effect. But its not clear why people would engage in patient, deliberative, possibly multilingual conversation with people in other countries about controversial political issues. Anyone familiar with the ‘under the line’ discussions on news websites will see how quickly and often the conversation becomes a hostile dialogue of the deaf.

So, perversely, publics must be taught how to be spontaneously deliberative. Forums for ‘global conversations’ will be created, along the lines of the BBC’s Have Your Say online spaces. These will form the ideal of what public-to-public diplomacy is about, for emulation by progressive media around the world. Unacceptable opinions or styles of participation will be moderated out. The mechanism for the long change is us, or what has been called in recent years ‘the power of we’ and ‘we the media’. But any global ‘we’ will have to be carefully constructed and edited.

It is stating the obvious to note that foreign policy issues are already being debated on the internet by both states and citizens. (The fact that the Israeli MFA actually bothered to tweet me on my Flotilla post brought that fact home to me in a big and scary way.) And I admit that I was impressed last year with the global online support for the Iranian protesters in the wake of the election there – although I do wonder if this constitutes debate? It was interesting that Obama intervened and asked that Twitter delay a service update in order to facilitate the Iranians protesting. Ben does not touch on these issues in his post. But the larger point to what he is getting to is whether such movements (particularly the one aimed at Iran) can be harnessed by states in ways that (cheaply!) support their foreign policy priorities.

I share Ben’s scepticism. However, where he seems to be concerned that “The Long Change, should it come to pass, implicates social media – and us as users and citizens – directly into international affairs in ways that require very careful scrutiny” I confess that I am more concerned over the idea that foreign policy could be constructively debated between “Beiberfan4Lyfe16” and “jiHHHAdiKilla”.

*picture from xkcd. I’m a huge nerd.

The not-so-twittered revolution

Some comments from a friend of Iranian extraction, who kindly agreed to allow me to repost them here.

As someone who has family members primarily outside Tehran and who has been following the revolt via them, I can say that what drives everything, that intensifies protest, that prevents a calming down of anger is the very clamping down on all press that the conservatives immediately mobilised and which they thought would be effective in suppressing protests.

Rumour has been intensely spreading about everything that it actually results in people in provinces feel they need to do “something”. So before last night (7 people were killed), there were no dead protestors, but people in the provinces were hearing casualties of 14 people, resulting in escalating anger.

There have been all sorts of rumours: that Rezaii (the ultra-conservative candidate) had endorsed Ahmadinejad’s win (he hadn’t), that Moussavi was under house arrest (he wasn’t), that the plain-clothes men beating people were imported from an ominous sounding “Arabic-speaking country” (they weren’t) and on and on.

I think the rumour mill here has been central to the escalation of protest and someone MUST do some research on this.

Finally, a note about Twitter. Twitter and Facebook and blogs are primarily for the protestors to reach outside Iran, not in the country itself. Furthermore, internet speed has apparently slowed to a crawl and mobile phone networks (and SMS capability) has been severely circumscribed. So, I’d be cautious about accepting at face value the accounts celebrating this as a “blogged” or “twittered” revolution! [emphasis mine]


Regime adaptation and anti-regime collective action

Mark Beissinger, in a fantastic article entitled “Structure and Example in Modular Political Phenomena: The Diffusion of Bulldozer/Rose/Orange/Tulip Revolutions” (abstract), develops an account of what he terms “modular revolutions”:

In the study of collective action, the notion of modularity has often been applied to the borrowing of mobilizational frames, repertoires, or modes of contention across cases. The revolutions that have materialized among the post-communist states since 2000 are examples of a modular phenomenon in this sense, with prior successful examples affecting the materialization of subsequent cases. Each successful democratic revolution has produced an experience that has been consciously borrowed by others, spread by NGOs, and emulated by local social movements, forming the contours of a model. With each iteration the model has altered somewhat as it confronts the reality of local circumstances. But its basic elements have revolved around six features:

1) the use of stolen elections as the occasion for massive mobilizations against pseudo-democratic regimes;
2) foreign support for the development of local democratic movements;
3) the organization of radical youth movements using unconventional protest tactics prior to the election in order to undermine the regime’s popularity and will to repress and to prepare for a final showdown;
4) a united opposition established in part through foreign prodding;
5) external diplomatic pressure and unusually large electoral monitoring; and
6) massive mobilization upon the announcement of fraudulent electoral results and the use of non-violent resistance tactics taken directly from the work of Gene Sharp, the guru of non-violent resistance in the West.

Beissinger also contends that not only do anti-regime movements learn–and derive inspiration–from past revolutions, but that regimes learn as well; in fact, they take proactive steps to disrupt the processes that lead to successful “color revolutions.”

Regimes have adapted by preventing adequate election monitoring, particularly by western organizations such as the OECD; in consequence, there’s no independent authority around to declare elections fraudulent. They’ve gone after independent media and otherwise attempted to limit the ability of regime opponents to coordinate with one another or get their message to the broader public. And so on and so forth. (We’ve even blogged about this kind of thing a bit in the context of Russia’s last national election).

Beissinger’s conclusion on this front is pessimistic for the success of future “color revolutions.” Regime adaptation, he argues, will outpace the strategies and tactics of democratic (or, at least, anti-regime) movements.

If this all sounds familiar, that’s because we’re seeing a stunning example of such adaptation in Iran: access cut to social networking technology and websites (including, possibly, Tehran Bureau), cutting cell phone communications, as well as a media blackout that extends, apparently, to jamming BBC reports, shutting down foreign media bureaus, and throwing out foreign journalists. They’ve deployed a massive presence in Tehran (and presumably in other major cities); some of their security forces as roving the streets on motorcycles in an attempt to quickly, and brutally, crack down on unrest.

In at least one respect, the true facts about the Iranian election–which we are unlikely to ever know–are secondary to a basic fact: we’re seeing a vivid example not only of regime adaptation to a particular “revolutionary” process, but also strong evidence–at least so far–that modern communications technologies have failed to tip the balance when it comes to “networks” against “the state” to the degree that many, many scholars, pundits, and social theorists have claimed.

Which, oddly enough, is what my recent book concludes is a “lesson” of the Reformations Era for the present period.


Which Dictator Are You?

This weekend I discovered Facebook’s “Which Dictator Are You?” application. This is a seven-question quiz that spits out a result with some basic historical information on a dictator and some cheeky comments about how the application inferred a match from your answers.

I have some unanswered questions about how the quiz works and some preliminary thoughts on how history is being communicated through such a device.

1) First item of note is the questions themselves. They arguably tell you very little directly about a person’s leadership style. They include things like musical taste, whether you buy girl scout cookies, and how you behave when stuck in a line at the bank. This contrasts to more straightforward “Which Dictator Are You” quizzes like the one at PoisonedMinds.com, which ask questions like “What’s your preference on facial hair?” “Who are the handy scapegoats for why your country sucks?” “What is your weapon of choice?” and “What kind of building do you live in?” – things that can be easily correlated to the actual behavior of historical figures.

2) Secondly, the questions measure how people see themselves – and actually, on how they wish to present how they see themselves publicly, since your Facebook friends can view the results of your quiz. So it’s not based on anything objective. If you’re going to correlate this to the personality traits of specific dictators, the matches should be generated on the basis of how dictator see themselves (thru memoirs perhaps?), not “objective” history. How is the matching actually done I wonder? (It could be completely arbitrary – two friends of mine with completely different personality types IMHO have gotten identical results.)

3) Regarding what lessons of history are being taught to the general public through four-sentence snapshots of historical figures: there is a curious gender disparity in the results I’ve been able to see so far. First, there are relatively few female dictators in the sample, at least, as far as I can tell – seems I am limited to looking at my friends’ quiz results, so I’ve only seen a handful out of the possible outcomes. (According to other Facebook user reviews of the application, many other dictators are also missing from the population.) But more interestingly (because of course fewer women have been in power historically) is the variation in commentary for male / female dictators. Compare the descriptions of Hitler and Castro, which emphasize their deeds and leadership styles, to Theodora, an 11th-century Byzantine ruler.

“You and Adolf may party hearty and crash hard, but you do know how to comfort and rally those who are panicked. If you’re not careful, though, your empire will peak as quickly as Hitler’s, and you could end up with the whole world on your tail. I think you’re nicer than him, though.”

“You and Fidel Castro have strong nationalistic pride, and can get by without many resources, resorting to ingenious guerilla tactics. Some even call Castro a benevolent dictator (and hopefully you’ll end up this way!) but sadly he resorts to the same oppression he fought against.”

“You and Theodora aren’t bad off, and you both vigorously assert your rights and work hard for what you want. You also shatter traditional ideas about gender roles on a daily basis.”

So let me get this straight: Theodora shatters gender stereotypes and asserts her own rights (standard feminism), and that makes her a dictator (defined by Facebook as having “sole power over his state and [being] usually oppressive or abusive”)? Hmm.

4) Hat tip to Facebook, though, for including Western dictators in their population. Turns out I’m “Abraham Lincoln.”


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