Category: Activism

Life imitates ad: Meet the Trees Foundation responds to Toys R Us

A Toys R Us ad that ridicules environmental education made fun of a fictional environmental organization called Meet the Trees. In response to the ad’s anti-environment message, some enterprising folks poke a little fun at Toys R Us by creating a web site for the Meet the Trees Foundation, the fictional organization featured in the ad. While I applaud the activists’ efforts–in particular its action page that helps people give Toys R Us a piece of their mind–the web site could use some help. I think the design and images reinforce a little of what the Toys  R Us ad was mocking. Regardless, I’m glad someone took the initiative to have a little fun at the expense of Toys R Us.

Media activism in the World Social Forum

‘Communicate to mobilise to communicate’. The WSF has been referred to as an emergent global public sphere; however, little systematic attention has been paid to how media and communication are implicated in making it ‘global’ and ‘public’.

via Media activism in the World Social Forum | openDemocracy.

I’m heading off to Tunis to participate in the World Social Forum. The above linked article is a wonderful discussion of emergent and innovative media strategies of forum participants. This definitely fits into my conception of organic media practice and is one more example of how grassroots media can help transform the media ecosystem.

Murdoch’s empire is an invader species of the media ecosystem

Watch Murdoch’s Scandal on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Frontline’s documentary, Murdoch’s Scandal [video link]

In case you missed it, the UK has been embroiled in an ongoing media scuttlebutt that was sparked by the News of the World scandal. The newspaper’s outrageous and unethical violation of people’s privacy and other alleged criminal activities led to a government inquiry by Lord Justice Leveson, whose report was released yesterday.

The Guardian, which was instrumental in uncovering many of the News of the World’s activities (see the Frontline documentary above), has this excellent overview of the report.

For those who don’t understand the nature and context of the problem, it should be noted that since the days of Thatcher and Reagan there has been an increasing normalization of neoliberal policies which eases government restrictions on media ownership. This has led to increased monopolization of media markets and, not surprisingly, to greater corruption. In the UK Rupert Murdoch’s media empire has been allowed to dominated the newspaper market, giving him the overwhelming power to influence and pervert the political process. In the US we have experienced such an extreme consolidation of media companies that now only a handful of multinationals dominate the majority of media.

The lesson should be clear: private media companies should not be allowed to consolidate and monopolize media markets, and hence the media ecosystem. They become a parasitic invader species that transforms the public sphere into to a monoculture incapable of a resilient response to climate change. It leads to less diversity of views and to a dominant worldview that favors corporate interests. In such an environment we get less news about environmental problems and more gossip and infotainment about celebrities like the Kardashians. Not surprisingly, it was a nonprofit newspaper, The Guardian, that broke the Murdoch scandal.

Of grave concern is Murdoch’s increasing influence in the US media market. Not only does his company News Inc. own one of the most atrocious and scandalous TV news networks in the world, Fox News, but he is gobbling up major newspapers like The Wall St. Journal. He now is making a bid to purchase the LA Times and Chicago Tribune and it looks like Obama’s FCC is ready to let him have at it. Thankfully is waging a campaign to stop this outrageous giveaway (click here to sign their petition).

It is increasingly clear that media monopolization leads to unethical media practices because these massive companies are more accountable to their commercial interests than the public good. We need to genuinely support nonprofit media ventures. One way to do that is to donate to public media, such as a local public media radio station, or to nonprofit activist organizations that are seeking to change the media system so that it is more just and diverse. has these handy guides for taking action.

PS For additional info, The Telegraph’s Leveson Report: the key points at a glance.

What media literacy can do to combat climate enemies

Which future will BP fuel? One that ends civilization as we know it? [video link]

“The Earth is not dying – she is being killed. And those who are killing her have names and addresses.” Utah Phillips

If you haven’t read it yet, Bill McKibben‘s recent Rolling Stone article, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” is absolutely required reading. To summarize, he points out that the carbon industry–mainly the globe’s major oil and gas companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP–have valued their stock based on the extraction and burning of enough fossil fuels to raise global temperatures by 11 degrees celsius. What that means is that if they do what they promise for their investors, civilization is over as we know it. It’s hard to imagine such perverse and short-sighted thinking, but such is the state of our current economic system.

So what can media literacy advocates do about it? McKibben argues that there is power in identifying the enemy. If we can target and discredit their operations, the perceived value and reasons for continuing business as usual can be crippled. Such was the case with Apartheid and how a global movement made the cost of doing business with the South Africa regime bad for business. And as media literacy advocates know, Big Tobacco was severely hampered by educators and media campaigns that countered their nefarious messaging.

Right now the major oil companies are able to dominate the discourse around climate change. Moreover, they deploy sophisticated communications strategies to greenwash their operations. One example is the BP “Fueling the Future” ads (see above video clip) and the Team USA ad running in the US during the Olympics. Shame on the Olympics for partnering with BP, which should have gotten the corporate death penalty for trashing the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem. Instead, the Olympics give a veneer of legitimacy for a shady corporation that is doing little to prevent the global catastrophe that is ingrained into its business plan.* Instead BP offers up a “target neutral” strategy for corporations to engage in unsustainable, shallow ecology.

The Climate Reality Project has already produced several videos aimed at linking the climate deniers with the PR strategies of the tobacco industry. Likewise, I believe that media educators should put deconstructing and challenging the oil industry at the center of their projects. The same skills that we use to critically engage alcohol or tobacco marketing can be applied to the way in which the carbon industry dominates discourse around climate change.

* I’ll need to comment in a separate post about the incredible integration of Olympics media coverage on NBC and the corporatist agenda. Suffice to say that there is a seamless fusion between patriotism, branding, corporatism and sport. Add to this the amazing capacity for the Olympics to transform any host site into a police state.

Revolutionary toolbox: Practical guide for making trouble

[video link]

OR Book’s Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution looks like a fantastic resource. A quick scan of the book’s contents reveals an excellent mix of theory, case studies and practical tips from a variety of innovators and pranksters. Many of the ideas in the book resonate with those discussed in The Media Ecosystem. I think they will compliment each other nicely.

David Suzuki on Rio+20, interviewed on Democracy Now!

This is why I donate to Democracy Now! Where else do we get alternative perspectives on debacles like Rio+20? Here environmentalist David Suzuki concisely breaks down why we keep making the same mistakes over and over again by trying to shoehorn the environment into an broken economic model. He makes the simple but obvious point that we need to remember that we are animals and that we depend on clean air, water and food to survive. If we shrink the earth down to the size of a basketball, the layer of atmosphere that sustains life would be thinner than plastic wrap.

If we are such intelligent creatures, how is it possible that we can’t focus on these basic facts? Media that do not address this paradigm are essentially immoral and insane. And for those of us who are media educators, we need to do a better job of highlighting and advancing this ecological perspective.

The Sky is Pink: fracking and the information war

THE SKY IS PINK from JFOX on Vimeo.

[video link]

Well, right on cue, Gasland director Josh Fox released a new video which serves as an excellent companion to my previous post. The Sky is Pink is a condensed version of Gasland, but updated to target New York governor Andrew Coumo’s efforts to allow fracking in his state. The thing I like about this video is its effort to debunk industry criticisms of Gasland by offering a mini-lesson in media literacy (“the sky is pink” refers to the PR strategy of making false claims that are then covered by news media for the sake of being “balanced”). I think that you will agree that after watching this Tom Ridge and his industry cronies are villains in the truest sense and that independent media makers are heroes!

For more background info about this short film, click here.

Fox occupies insanity

[article and video link]

I know that I’m preaching to the converted, but it’s always good to have case studies. In light of FAIR‘s research concerning the dearth of Occupy Wall Street coverage, it appears the corporate media backlash (and hence denial about the economic crisis) is firmly entrenched. The above clip from Fox New’s The Five smugly dismisses OWS based on the poor performance of an OWS participant, Harrison Schultz, who was hammered by the flak master and neuro-linguistic programmer, Sean Hannity (follow this link to an amazing breakdown of how it’s done). In the Hannity segment titled, “Occupy Insanity,” first try watching the interview with Schultz without sound (the background shots were quite selective, focusing on the acts of a very small minority of violent protestors). Then listen to how Hannity skillfully redirects any serious critique of the system to focus on abhorrent behavior.

The Republicans’ recycled one-liner response to anyone exercising free speech–Get a job–will continue to substitute for any genuine commitment to democratic discourse. It’s not by accident that Fox News producers go out of their way to find the least experienced, inarticulate examples from the movement in order to create a straw man that can be easily torched. By contrast, consider this thoughtful discussion on Democracy Now! that presented diverse views about the movement. Can you imagine any of these panalists being interviewed on Fox? Chances are no, not only because Fox would never allow anyone so articulate to air his or her views, but these guests are wise enough to avoid letting themselves get cannibalized by Fox in order to become fodder for future propaganda. I ultimately don’t know Schultz’ motive, but I think it was a mistake (and perhaps a big temptation to be on TV) to give Hannity a forum to exercise his magician’s skills.

As evidence for how little Fox and friends comprehend what is happening outside the walled studio, they refer to Schultz as a leader of the movement. Strange, I didn’t know OWS has leaders or spokespeople. Regardless, it’s clear that this kind of media coverage is a diversion to avoid talking about real issues. It is to Fox’s detriment that they are unwilling to grasp the truly unsustainable nature of the situation and to patronize young people by yelling at them to get a job.

This kind of playbook response is well anticipated. As is the case with any activism that challenges the status quo going back to the 1960s, corporate media typically marginalize the protestor’s claims through flak. They discredit these claims through association with the counter culture (“they’re not like us,” “they are not reasonable people,” “they are lunatics”) and radicals (“anarchists,” “socialists,” “communists,” “Hamas” affiliates, “anti-Semites,” “Nazis,” etc.). They impose a narrative that portrays them as childlike (“petulant,” “spoiled”), naive (“they don’t know what they want”), aiding the enemy (Chavez, Hamas and the Ayatollah “love them”), and destructive (“they want our stuff,” “they will destroy capitalism”). This is not to say that sympathizers in the corporate media don’t exist. Nonetheless, those seeking serious discourse about the world’s problems won’t find much of it in a media environment dominated by conflict-driven infotainment spectacles that consider shouting matches democratic discussions.

I believe it is pointless to expect a reasonable discussion or debate in the corporate media. I think it is far better to continue creating alternative media that works towards building the new paradigm of participatory democracy and media. If you need a good example, go no further than this documentaryy, which offers fantastic insight into the Aikido move that we need to make around mainstream media.

On this note, consider the wise words of Bertrand Russell:

Perhaps the essence of the Liberal outlook could be summed up in a new decalogue, not intended to replace the old one but only to supplement it. The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows:

Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.

Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.

Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.

When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.

Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.

Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.

Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.

Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.

Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

Quote source: Brain Pickings

Control the means of reproduction: Media-tech innovation @ #OWS


The Webzine Motherboard offers this fantastic glimpse into how a group of techie activists seek to revolutionize networking. In an effort to create software/hardware that matches the concept of the Occupy General Assembly, the Free Network Foundation is taking McLuhan’s aphorism to heart: the medium of an independent P2P network is the message.

In their own words:

  • We envision communications infrastructure that is owned and operated cooperatively, by the whole of humanity, rather than by corporations and states.
  • We are using the power of peer-to-peer technologies to create a global network which is immune to censorship and resistant to breakdown.
  • We promote freedoms, support innovations and advocate technologies that enhance and enable digital self-determination.

#Kony2012: Viral cause célèbre

If you can’t see the video, click here.

By the time you read this, it will be old news. The Kony 2012 meme has probably already exploded and splattered across the various portals, screens and networks of your sphere. Today everywhere I looked, there it was: my favorite blogs, Twitter feeds, Facebook wall, speakers of my office mate’s computer, and the hallway of the university where I work.

With its vast, instantaneous spread and quick linking without thought, this obviously made me curious, not just to learn more about the issue, but also to think about this as a phenomenon and lesson in the power of social media.

Admittedly the whole thing made me feel suspicious. But rather than indulge my critical tendencies, I thought it would be good to acknowledge that the people behind this project (Invisible Children) probably mean well and are doing what they think is the best solution to solve a terrible problem. So what follows are my initial thoughts about its positives, and then some reflections on those elements that make me guarded.

What it does right:

Demonstrating collective action around an idea, using a clear message, slogan and image. A successful campaign that has drawn attention to an area that usually is considered peripheral. Generating debate and dialog about best practices and methods. Showing the organic and open character of the internet in which an idea can be promoted and contested. Clever and persuasive use of cinema for the greater good. Connects global problem with local reality. Effective harnessing of empathy. Nice slogan: “Where you live shouldn’t determine whether your live.” Makes the political personal. Good use of social marketing by telling a story rather than just showing facts. Powerful design and packaging strategy.

Things that make me wary:

Presents a neoliberal/neocon vision of political activism, reducing it to brand politics not unlike focusing on the arrest and elimination of Osama Bin Laden as a means for solving a much bigger, systemic crisis. Pseudo-empowerment based on flattery of the activist. Politically safe action that reinforces existing power relations. Not very Afro-centric. Promoting the role of the US as global police force. Threatens to be meme of the week, and little more. Too self-referential, self-congratulatory, and ego-driven. Orientalist in that dark Africa is once again a means for the purification of a white man’s soul. A little too emotionally manipulative, bordering on the group pressure tactics of religious cults. Potential abuse of slick design and packaging strategy to mask larger complexities.

This story is unfolding rapidly. To get more context, check out Visible Children and The Guardian.

This is an urgent action item. Stop ACTA now!

If you don’t know about ACTA, learn more here.

Occupying Times Square: From 99 theses to 99% thesis

Archived Live Stream of Occupiers holding a General Assembly in Times Square. Link for video embed

On Saturday I was enraptured by Tim Pool‘s USTREAM live cast of Occupy Wall Street’s recent action.* As Occupiers played Red Rover and Frogger with police across Manhattan, all was captured live and uploaded into the planetary Net. Like the live cast of the Occupiers getting kettled and arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge a few months ago, it was a riveting reprieve from the old, predigested form of media we grew up with.

As I watched I couldn’t help but feel that this is a collective, emergent version of Martin Luther’s protest in 1517. Like the 95 theses he posted on the church door that later was reprinted and widely disseminated with the new media technology of that period, likewise we are now seeing an unprecedented diffusion of an alternative paradigm that challenges the power structure. But this time it’s the 99% thesis. Whereas Luther challenged the corrupt authority and abuse of power by the Roman Catholic Church, we are now doing the same against domination and colonization of the planetary commons by corporations.

The fact is, since the 1980s I’ve seen these kinds of actions over and over again, but they never gained traction like they are now. The difference is probably that so many people have been pushed off a cliff that the propaganda system in place can no longer shield people from the truth at hand: that the corporate takeover of the commons can no longer be sustained. We have reached the limit and end of the old system and we are currently in a transition into a liminal state in which all the old thought forms that were codified during the past 500 years are becoming destabilized.

This is made visible in the above clip, which is an archived stream from the Saturday protests. It’s the moment when the protestors, after dodging the NYPD throughout Manhattan, spontaneously organized a General Assembly in Times Square. Using the “people mic,” they “testified” as to why they are part of the Occupation movement, all the while bathed in the surreal glow of corporate propaganda.

Times Square is the quintessential spiritual center of the corporate project. Once the seedy underbelly of New York’s deviant unconsciousness, since Giuliani’s reign as mayor the open space of 42nd St. has been transformed into a kind of dystopic hydra of capitalist enclosure (privatization/fencing off). A mix of surveillance and marketing uber alas, Times Square has become an open air television studio that invites anyone to enter and be mediated by the planetary corporate rulers. This, I would argue, is part of its lure. A hybrid of advertising and reality TV, I know of no other place on Earth where Disneyland, advertising and mass media cohere into a pulsating hum of mediated insanity. Not even Las Vegas can achieve such a distinction. And like moths to a flame, people are attracted by the very thing that could ultimately destroy them. To paraphrase Benjamin, not since the Nazis has our own alienation and self-destruction been made to look so beautiful.**

Yet as police stand by to protect holiday shoppers and business as usual, a handful of Occupiers bear witness to this insanity (thereby labeled by the system as lunatics). Here, as the embodiment of Earth’s spirit, these brave souls momentarily disrupt the pulsating spectacle. Whilst in the past numerous crazies have attempted such sacrilege against this colonizing machine, something has changed.

We are being heard. And it’s resonating.

It’s happening despite the luminous power of Times Square and its tentacled financiers in Wall Street. A people’s mic, which is a spontaneous form of direct democracy and speech, utterly contradicts the communication forms of advertising in which psychologically tested and honed messages are pushed into people’s mindspace. The occupiers wage guerrilla war against that mechanism through the deployment of prefigurative politics that pull people together with a shared senses of responsibility and reciprocity. Their collectivity, community and ritual becomes an alternate form of mediation that deprives the corporate powers of their ability to colonize human energy.

For the moment the system seems invincible, its vast architecture of light and information permeating public space. It can only succeed when no other world can be visualized or imagined beyond it. What you see here is a new kind of collective imagination taking shape. Behold, participate, smile and look around. Raised consciousness is coming to a live stream near you.

* Here is an insightful interview with Tim from Current’s USTREAM channel.

** If you think I’m stretching the analogy too far, I consider the rapid rise of Co2 emissions changing the very chemistry of our atmosphere as a far worse crime against humanity than anything achieved by the worse totalitarians of the 20th century.

Privatizing the cultural commons


I love this graphic, which sums up quite visually the intent behind the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. The trade agreement, which has been negotiated in secret, represents how corporations are trying to enclosed and privatize the planetary cultural commons. You can read more about it here, or you can watch the video below (if you can’t see it, go here):

Say no to ACTA di QuadratureDuNet

Berlusconi’s fiddle

The above clip from Fox News (link) cleverly inserts riot footage from Rome, making an erroneous connection between Occupy Wall St. and the antics of violent protestors in Italy. Such footage is meant to scare viewers and to discredit the thoughtful and nonviolent people who pose a serious threat to the system. As I go on to explain below, violent insurrections like the one on Oct. 15 have essentially sabotaged the occupy movement in Rome (for now).

Saturday Oct. 15 was an internationally coordinated event meant to extend the momentum of Occupy Wall St. In Rome, when we first arrived at the launch point (Piazza della Repubblica), the energy was fantastic. Lots of excitement. People felt energized, but the mood was bit dour as well. The day before Berlusconi had survived another no-confidence vote. The demo was massive–I heard that it was as high as 700,00 people, though that figure seems a bit exaggerated. All I can say is that from where it started it took over three hours for all the people to enter into the march.

After about 45 minutes of moving slowly while serenaded by all kinds of sound systems blasting the protest classics, once we began seeing the hooded black block infiltrate the crowd, we decided it was time to leave. One of them even threatened to punch me when I tried to take their picture.

Trying to leave proved difficult, however. The police had cordoned off the side streets, making it impossible for anyone to exit the march. We ended up having to backpedal upstream to get out of the demonstration. I took that as a very bad sign because it seemed to me that the police were forcing everyone into a pressure point. Sure enough, fifteen minutes after we exited all the burning and smashing started.

Local articles have pieced together a confusing picture. A theory among many is that the massive riot that quickly exploded was a highly coordinated and well-planed urban warfare strategy. Various kinds of projectiles were strategically placed and hidden at different points along the streets. There was a very large group (at least 100) that cut the demonstration in half at the precise point that the front group had arrived at march’s final destination. The police did not do very much at the beginning and let the rioters go about as they wished. Some claim police inaction was out of fear of being libel, as was the case in the aftermath of Genoa (indeed, the hashtag for the militants to coordinate each other was #genoareloaded). The police officially say they held back out of concern for people’s safety. This, I find dubious, since when I tried to leave the police wouldn’t let me. There were also reports of “ultras” (soccer hooligans) entering into the fray (apparently this is par for the course–they are professional rioters, after all).

Many of the black block kids were quite young (minors) and from all over Italy. It was clear that they were well prepared and had tactics. Rumor has it that they were trained in Greece. What their goals were remain a mystery to me, because at the end of the day, the government and police are the victors: an opportunity to initiate a peaceful occupation was sabotaged and now the fascist mayor of Rome is calling for a suspension for all marches during the next month. This means that Fiat auto workers who were planning a big demo are now prohibited. Jasmina Tesanovic asks the right question, a chi giova–who bennefits? My impression is that police and the black block need each other the same way that Christians and Satanists are co-dependentent. They define each other’s actions and reality. I suggest they go have it out in the Colosseum and let the rest of us participate in something productive.

Meme occupation

Video link

I admit that I have been hard on AdBusters. In particularly I have objected to founder Kalle Lassen’s overly mechanistic concept of memes. In his book, Culture Jam, he claimed that media “inject” ideology, a view long discredited by cultural studies. I also find the magazine’s focus on anti-advertising–though a good exercise for learning media literacy skills–a bit ineffectual. Is the solution to compete with marketers by playing their own game? The branding and selling of AdBusters has been equally disturbing.

But I’m happy to admit that some of the AdBusters crew got it right by initiating the Occupy Wall St. meme. It was their initial call to action that brought people down to Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan. It has now spread across the country to urban areas everywhere, and is also linked with movements around the world. The simple slogan, “we are the 99%,” has far more resonance than Coca-Cola’s “It’s the real thing.”

Though the typical media backlash is evidenced by the usual haters–Fox news featured Ann Coulter who invoked the dreaded specter of beheadings and mob rule from the French Revolution–I’m finding unusually sympathetic coverage coming from unanticipated places, such as AdAge and Forbes.

A meme works when it taps into a zeitgeist. It’s a flame that ignites, but doesn’t necessarily replicate exactly in the same form every time. It’s like an utterance that echoes and reverberates through resonance. It doesn’t exist as a thing but as part of an ongoing conversation. Few need a college degree to apprehend the depth of catastrophe the current economic model has become. By establishing contact zones with the awareness that something needs to be done, these occupations become apertures for an emergent reality that contests the delusional dreamworld propagated by the corporate media.

The handful of corporate media that dominate the telecommunications environment represent the interests of the One-Percenters. The One-Percenter media will have difficulty commodifying the reality that people are experiencing on the ground. After all, how long can you get away with calling the opposition Nazis and remain credible? This was Kracauer‘s insight when he studied why Nazi propaganda ultimately failed: it couldn’t sustain the contradictions of its own messaging (such as the Nazi’s were simultaneously invincible yet vulnerable). How is it possible that we can simultaneously grow and prosper while real economic and ecological systems collapse? Capitalism can no longer sustain itself by externalizing the crisis, because ultimately there is no such thing as externalization in a planetary community. The financiers might think they can survive by boarding some kind superliner arks like we saw in the film 2012, but ultimately food, energy and labor has to come from somewhere.

I think the #occupywallstreet meme works because it is backed by feet on the ground. It’s not just an immaterial commodity whose symbolic value can be drained of meaning by the culture industries. Nike and Levis may try to brand it, but most are savvy enough to see through this kind of cynical manipulation. Part of its resilience comes from the movement’s ability to self mediate. It doesn’t depend on mainstream media (though it appreciates sympathetic coverage) . It has made a lateral move around it, expanding through social networks on the Web and smart phones. Fox will scare the pants off of retired Republicans with its visions of mob rule, but even Fox viewers must be feeling the pinch as their pensions get sucked into the financial black hole.

Like in the Arab Spring, youth have sparked the movement. They are technically connected and media savvy, but their concerns are not theirs alone. Nonetheless, it’s too premature to call this a revolution. Revolutions don’t happen this easily. Just look at Egypt and Libya. Winter is coming, so it remains to be seen if an outdoor occupation can withstand the harsh reality of climate change (then again, the weather is so weird right now that we could have an American Spring in December). What is clear is that the energy is finally shifting. People sense the endgame is upon us and have finally decided to do something. About time.

Ken dumps Barbie over deforestation (finally!)

Ken finds some hard truths about Barbie from Greenpeace on Vimeo.

(I’m a little behind with this one–it has been sitting in my draft pile for a month. Better late than never!)

Well,it’s about time Ken took a stand against Barbie’s deforesting ways. This, at least, is Greenpeace’s humorous approach to pressuring Mattel to stop their partnership with Asia Pulp and Paper. Not that we need another reason to be pissed at Barbie for being a shopaholic, but at least this time we can do something more than just whine about it.

Some thoughts about the Twitter revolution debate


Image source

The following are notes from a presentation I recently gave during a panel discussion entitled, “Twittering the Revolution: Causes and Prospects of the North African Upheaval” at John Cabot University. These thoughts are largely sketches to fit into a ten-minute frame.

The problem is that everything I have to say comes from the media: media have become very self-referential and often reports on themselves. The important point is that what I say comes from inside a very complex media ecology that combines twitter, Facebook, blogs, Al Jazeera, hybrid print media, live blogs and email. As an indication, most of what follows came from following various discussions via Twitter.

Competing narratives:

1) Digital Utopians with implicit ethnocentrism that it’s West’s technological tools that enabled revolution and a hint of technological determinism, i.e. Tim Conner (writing in incomplete sentences like ad copy):

“Facebook and Twitter are great apps for inciting a riot to start a revolution. We need the next app. The app that lets the People gather together to quickly establish government of the people, by the people, for the people. The app that prevents extremists from taking advantage of a power vacuum. The app that enables quick restoration of the rule of law. And allows folks to quickly get back to work.”

In response David Smith writes:

“If the digital punters out there are to be believed, it is the power of some corporates in California that is setting the Arab world free. It is the venture capitalists, the CEOs, the boardroom visionaries of Palo Alto that are to be thanked for the groundswell we are seeing in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Jordan. According to the social-media posse, we must bow our heads and give praise to Mr Mark Zuckerberg and Mr Jack Dorsey for sponsoring the Middle-East revolution.

Yup, Twitter and Facebook. They have both been pronounced as the cornerstones that one builds a revolution on. Got a regime you need to overthrow? Hashtag it, bag it, and throw it on the scrapheap, job done.”

Then there’s the tempered but optimistic view:

Jeff Jarvis (author of What Would Google Do?): “Today, it occurs to me that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube may be the Gutenberg press of the Middle East, tools like his that enable people to speak, share, and gather. Without those tools, could revolutions occur? Of course, curmudgeons, they could. Without people and their passion, could revolutions occur? Of course not, curmudgeons. But why are these revolutions occurring now? No, curmudgeons, we’ll never be able to answer that question.”

On the other hand, from those who were there:

Wael Ghonim, a Google executive, calls it Revolution 2.0 and likens it to Wikipedia where you have no clear structure or leaders and it is done collectively.

2) Digital dystopians and the “debunking cycle” (Malcolm Gladwell and Evgeny Morozov, author of The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom) who argue a) revolutions happened without Twitter and Facebook, so we can’t attribute social networks as causes (Gladwell: “People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before the Internet came along.”); b) clicktivism is false sense of empowerment with weak ties, and is without deep organizing that builds strong ties; c) social networks are also tools of repression that help authorities crackdown and find who the rebells are (as was the case in Iran).

Reinforcing this view:

* Remember how quickly Wikleaks was shut down by corporations on the Internet.

* Facebook deactivated an Egypt group because it used pseudonyms. Gawker’s Adrian Chen argued that Facebook was timid and cowardly by not actively helping Egyptians protestors.

3) The Third Way. This sees the situation as a “media ecology” that has all these elements. Missing is the role of Al Jazeera, which has spurned a pan-Arab neo-nationalism, and its English version which has inspired those in the West to solidarity. You can’t argue “what if” because it is impossible to speculate what would happen without the current media ecology. For example, Jay Rosen’s “Twitter Can’t Topple Dictators” polemic argues, “factors are not causes.”

I’m interested in the reversal of roles of the traditional media model. For us in Europe and the US, Africa is normally the “periphery” and we depend on our own technicians and experts to report back to us. During these events, we became the periphery. News was “crowd sourced”— Al Jazeera depended upon people on the ground with cell phones and Twitter. Live news blogging, like the Guardian UK mixed its reporting with sources from all over the world. Twitter was an amazing way to track what was happening on the ground. Al Jazeera does not exist in isolation of social media. It is a hybrid.

Israel and the neocons could not control the narrative on the ground. This is the biggest change. 85% of Americans said they sympathized with Egyptian revolution. Now there is increased transparency, and those who did biz with dictators are being discredited. Artists like Boyance, Usher and 50 Cent who performed for the Gaddafi clan were called out and embarrassed by their actions. You can be sure people will think twice about enabling dictators.

There is a far more heightened morality in the global public sphere.

Other thoughts:

* Can you believe this slight against US media from the US State Dept.? This is a pole shift. Sec. State Hillary Clinton: “Like it or hate it, it is really effective. In fact, viewership of Al-Jazeera is going up in the United States because it is real news. You may not agree with it, but you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news that is not providing information to us, let alone foreigners.”

* Did American media fail because of its celebrity/parachute journalism, so we have the spectacle of Anderson Cooper’s attack or the unfortunate assault on Lara Logan?

* Was Wikileaks the catalyst that the started the whole process? Impossible to answer, but it seemed to have had the effect of the Emperor’s New Clothes fable.

Again, there is too much complexity for simple answers. Fear factor broken. The field of action changed.