Images of Dissent: Protest and the Limits of Social Networks

Images of Dissent: Protest and the Limits of Social Networks

Today both states and their challengers face a conundrum. Images of dissent and grievance circulate at lightning speed through the global media landscape, fueling demands for change and even revolution. Furthermore they encourage populations to expect governments to fall in response to people power in ever-contracting timeframes. States are perplexed at how rapidly calls for change can spread through social networks. Their challengers too are concerned: They face a loss of control and message coherence.

Political change has always been about the long game, as Egypt and Syria demonstrate today. Nevertheless, there remains the challenge of organizing collective action in today’s febrile and globally connected mediascape, at the heart of which sits the restive way consumers use electronic media: the ambitious demands we make when we use our laptops and cellphones to communicate the desire for change, along with the faith we vest in their ability to help deliver substantive social and political transformation. This suggests a need to recognize how the digital media and social networks that underpin popular unrest actually interact. We have barely scratched the surface. States are just waking up to the unpredictable power of consumer media in the hands of the population. State-challengers are realizing that what they gain with one hand -- reaching the masses with the message -- they lose with the other -- their need to control narrative content within a strategic framework.

The ICT-Driven Shift in Social Relations

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