In light of what’s going on in North Africa and Western Asia, the liberating potential of social media is very much on the agenda these days.
Here is Clayton Shirky on the subject in a debate in Foreign Affairs:
It would be impossible to tell the story of Philippine President Joseph Estrada’s 2000 downfall without talking about how texting allowed Filipinos to coordinate at a speed and on a scale not available with other media. Similarly, the supporters of Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero used text messaging to coordinate the 2004 ouster of the People’s Party in four days; anticommunist Moldovans used social media in 2009 to turn out 20,000 protesters in just 36 hours; the South Koreans who rallied against beef imports in 2008 took their grievances directly to the public, sharing text, photos, and video online, without needing permission from the state or help from professional media. Chinese anticorruption protesters use the instant-messaging service QQ the same way today. All these actions relied on the power of social media to synchronize the behavior of groups quickly, cheaply, and publicly, in ways that were unavailable as recently as a decade ago.
Here’s indi.ca in Sri Lanka’s Sunday Leader:
Another characteristic of modern revolutions is that they are efficiently coordinated via social networks like Twitter and Facebook and cellular technology like SMS. While aging dictators have been adept at censoring mainstream media and obstructing public assembly, they have been slow to crack down on social media. By the time they do, like Egypt shutting off the Internet, it is often too late. Social networks by themselves cannot ignite revolutions, but they do seem able to catalyze the street protests that ultimately do.