liberating potential Archives


The liberating potential of ICT

Posted on February 19, 2011  /  5 Comments

Ever since Harvard Forum II, Randy Spence and I have been kicking around Amartya Sen’s notion that ICTs have a net positive liberating potential. I have been the skeptic. But evidence is adding up in Randy’s column: For some of the protesters facing Bahrain’s heavily armed security forces in and around Pearl Square in Manama, the most powerful weapon against shotguns and tear gas has been the tiny camera inside their cellphones. By uploading images of this week’s violence in Manama, the capital, to Web sites like YouTube and yFrog, and then sharing them on Facebook and Twitter, the protesters upstaged government accounts and drew worldwide attention to their demands. A novelty less than a decade ago, the cellphone camera has become a vital tool to document the government response to the unrest that has spread through the Middle East and North Africa.

Kill switch in Egypt

Posted on February 2, 2011  /  1 Comments

I never expected an economy as advanced as that of Egypt to shut down the Internet. But it did. Not completely, as shown by the Figure in the Wired article that I have taken the excerpt below from. Egypt’s largest ISPs shut off their networks Thursday, making it impossible for traffic to get to websites hosted in Egypt or for Egyptians to use e-mail, Twitter or Facebook. The regime of President Hosni Mubarak also ordered the shut down of mobile phone networks, including one run by the U.
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.