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Foreign Policy Politics The Opinionsphere The Web and Technology

Tweeting Revolution

In lieu of a substantial column on my part – I’m in one of those places where I’m stuck in the middle of three or possibly four longer pieces – here’s a quick collection of related thoughts:

David Brooks in the New York Times:

To me, the most interesting factor is the way instant communications lead to unconscious conformity. You’d think that with thousands of ideas flowing at light speed around the world, you’d get a diversity of viewpoints and expectations that would balance one another out. Instead, global communications seem to have led people in the financial subculture to adopt homogenous viewpoints. They made the same one-way bets at the same time.

Brooks is talking about instant communications in finance, but he’s onto something that has been evident to close observers of the internet social networking since it’s inception. The instantaneousness of the communication – the sharing – leads to conformity. It seems that instant reactions to events are more uniform that our individual reflective understandings. At the same time, the speed of the communication creates a kind of self-reinforcing wave as each individual reaction begins to affect the event itself – especially as related to markets or other systems that are open to individual input. Online instant communication then creates a kind of “conformity by sharing.” One excellent example of this is the flash mob. Flash mobs have an additional conforming pressure – the desire to be part of the in-crowd. They also seem to have a particular agenda – to shock the public with organized spontaneity. (Here’s two of my favorite flash mob events – in Grand Central, New York and Antwerp, Belgium.)

This conformity by sharing via the internet has already had more significant effects than the flash mobs. For example, the Obama campaign derived a large amount of energy from online organizing and networking – though this online component was balanced with a more traditional campaign. The Orange Revolution in Ukraine was said to be organized in large part by text messaging via a primitive social network. It’s interesting to see how this is playing out in the Twitter revolution in Moldova.  

Somewhat related to the Twitter revolution, Joshua Keating makes a wise observation regarding protests in a short piece entitled “Do protests ever work?” in Foreign Policy:

Rather than organizing around a specific political goal, ending the war, these marches tend to devolve into general lefty free-for-alls encompassing everything from Palestine to free trade the environment to capital punishment. 

I would add that, at least in democratic societies, protests that demand accountability or consistency from “the system” tend to be more effective than one that seek to overturn it.

Keating was referring to the G-20 protests in London.

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