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From Chiapas to Tahrir: Networks and the Diffusion of Protest

Sandra González-Bailón Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A lot has changed in the world of technology since the indigenous Zapatista movement emerged in the mid-1990s in southern Mexico to become a symbol of the fight for global justice. To modern would-be revolutionaries, the communication technologies that allowed the Zapatistas to gain global visibility -- highlighted by the then-futuristic-looking pictures of Subcomandante Marcos, the movement’s leader, posing in the Chiapas jungle wrapped in electronic gear -- now look obsolete and cumbersome. Communication technologies have since morphed into devices that, despite being smaller, are incomparably more powerful for broadcasting, not only because exponential growth in Internet penetration over the past two decades has made potential audiences larger, but also because the devices themselves are now ubiquitous, becoming a sort of invisible presence that shapes our daily routines and feeds us constantly with information.

As outdated as the imagery of the Zapatista movement might look to our retrained eyes, however, it was one of the first global manifestations of the tectonic shift caused by new communication technologies and the ever-extending capillarity of the Internet. The transformations unleashed then are still shaping the way protest movements arise: The Internet underpins much of the action in the recent global upsurge in political protests, as it surely will in future waves, albeit with a different interface. ...

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