Has “the rapid diffusion of information communication technology has had any statistically significant impact on anti-government protests in countries under repressive rule?”
The answer from researcher Patrick Meier:
(details of the study’s methodology and results are here)
We found that both variables, Internet and mobile phones, were statistically significant, and negative, with the mobile phones coefficent being larger the Internet coefficient. This would suggest that mobile phones have more of a disruptive impact on repressive regimes.
Evgeny Morozov gives interesting background to such studies, noting that alternative online media, such as Indymedia, did not play a large role during the recent protests (this statement contradicts however the eyewitness report we reproduced earlier on our blog).
“The most impressive of such networks- the Independent Media Center (or Indymedia)– sprang up in the wake of the Seattle anti-WTO protests of 1999, acquiring a cult status in the anti-globalization community overnight. Since then, Indymedia has been busy supplying their contributors with reporting equipment, organizing media trainings, and helping their stringers get their stories out to the general public. The years that followed – with a plenty of protest action around WTO and G8 summits – marked the renaissance of the alternative media.
However, by 2008 the usefulness of such initiatives seems less obvious; what looked novel in 1999 looks unnecessarily centralized and hierarchical today. In the aftermath of the protests, many Greek bloggers and citizen journalists naturally fitted the live news sections of premier American and Europe TV stations, got a chance to tell their stories, didn’t need any special equipment but cellphones and laptops, and they certainly didn’t need yet another platform for documenting what they saw or what they thought – they all had their own blogs and Twitter accounts, to post to.
With so much riot-related digital content generated elsewhere, the anti-globalization media faces oblivion and needs to find a new role. Curating all the numerous amateur photos, videos, and comments emerging from the riots would be one meaningful contribution they can make. Consider thousands of videos uploaded to YouTube, photos uploaded to Flickr, as well as blog and Twitter messages flying around the Web – it was virtually impossible for Greek and foreign observers alike to make sense of what was going on. And although Indymedia and several other anti-globalization outlets did try to aggregate some of this content at the outset of the riots, they attempts were short-lived, leaving the global public without the curator it needed so badly.”
His conclusion is the following:
In today’s ultra-networked world, an unaffiliated individual with a laptop and an Internet connection is often more influential and resourceful than an organization with a staff of twenty and a fax machine was only twenty years ago. This is a truly strange period of institutional change when an organization’s vast assets also look like its greatest liabilities.