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Just Because the Revolution Will Not Be Digital Does Not Mean it Will Not Happen

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Much is being made of ICT and social media in the context of public protests. Governments in distress clearly seem to believe in their power, since they continue to try, sometimes successfully, switching off the many-to-many communication channels that protestors use to organize themselves and to distribute information and materials. When new media were truly new and scholars wondered about the phenomenon and its political effects for the first time, the major question was whether ICT could mobilize people that would not otherwise have been politically active or whether it is "merely" a channel for the already active to organize themselves more efficiently. 

Since those questions were first raised, empirical studies have supported both arguments. In general, studies do not suggest that the outcome of revolutions depends on the availability of Facebook. It seems more likely that offline political processes are being strengthened and multiplied by ICT. But although hard empirical evidence for the immediate political power of ICT is not overwhelming, the psychological effects on governments seem to be strong. That in itself is an interesting effect of communication technologies: The belief in the power of ICT seems to have become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

However, public opinion cannot be defeated by blocking access to digital communication. Once governments have lost their legitimacy and citizens demand change, only change will restore national stability. After all, as the quotes we publish have often stated, government is founded on public opinion. Taking citizens offline does not take away their power to act. To quote one of my Facebook friends: just because the revolution will not be digital does not mean it will not happen.

Picture: Flickr user richard.pyrker

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