Mittwoch, 8. Mai 2013

Ignite Talk: Arab Spring

Doing the Ignite talk was my favourite task during the course: partly due to the issue we talked about - the Arab Spring - and partly because I really like the combination of words and pictures with the precise summing up of our findings and the challenge to get everything across in 5 minutes.
We decided to split up the topic, discussing several positive aspects of Social Media in these conflicts on one hand and the dangers and problems associated with it (that was my part) on the other hand.

While the mobilizing and motivational aspects of Social Media have been widely discussed (and sometimes overestimated) the dangers of Social Media being used as a means for censorship, control and repression have to be mentioned more often. Only if both sides are brought into the discussion it can be balanced out.

As the example of the Arab Spring shows, it is hard to control the Internet (and other ICTs) but nevertheless, some (authoritarian) states struggle hard to master the new technologies and (re-)gain the hegemony on the net. During the Arab Spring uprisings, it became obvious that control and censorship may hinder mobilization and political engagement, but that there are situations when citizens struggle hard and find ways to circumvent it. Looking at the ongoing technological race between dictators who want to establish censorship and control and citizens who fight it, the question who will win in the end
remains open, being a question of both politics and technology.

Finally, here are my slides:

Social media is ambivalent: it can help citizens in the fight against authoritarian regimes, but it also 
facilitates state surveillance: hacking computers of opponents is easier than breaking into houses for 
State censorship of social media prevents not only the free flow of ideas and the freedom of 
expression. It also constraints information, hinders mobilization and is used to suppress the 
In countries like Egypt, Libya and Bahrain, regimes have shut down the Internet during the 
protests.. Other states  slow down Internet traffic to hinder access and impede its use for organising 

Regimes can fight back by detecting dissidents’ networks. They look for traces of their opponents 
on the web, use personal information, hack accounts and identify protesters through photographs.

Now we would like to discuss with you. What do you think: in the future, will social media more 
likely be a tool for liberation or for repression?

Donnerstag, 7. März 2013

Companies and politicians strongly fear a internet phenomenon called "shitstorm".
It basically means that doing or saying something wrong or stupid can result in a lot of unpleasant reactions, ranking from laughing about it to serious criticism and even protest actions on the internet.
The amount and pace of the critique then add up to a storm that the 'victim' can not defy and that can badly harm his or her reputation.

Now, there is a new phenomenon emerging that is exactly the opposite, honoring people or institutions for good work: the candystorm.

It can be traced back to the German politican Volker Beck (The Greens) who initiated the first candystorm in November 2012 as a measure of support for his colleague, Claudia Roth. In an inter-party election she wasn't elected to run the national campaign, and it was obvious she was deeply disappointed. It was unclear if she was running for chairperson of the party again or not.


But as her fellow party members wanted her to run for this office, they felt that Roth needed encouragement. So they invented the Candystorm and urged party members to participate in it via Twitter and Facebook. The opposite of a shitstorm? #claudia2moreyears.

This candystorm action brought a variety of compliments and proved to be very successful. Claudia Roth, impressed and touched, decided to run again. This time she won and the good mood came back.


This story potentially could have been a minor incident, but the media picked up on it and reported it everywhere. In the meantime, another Candystorm has appeared, 'hitting' the Financial Times Germany that went out of business.Their good work was praised all over Twitter.
The Candystorm term seems to be in everyones mouth right now, but it remains to be seen whether this is a short term phenomenon or will be as established as the Shitstorm is nowadays.

Dienstag, 12. Februar 2013

Social Media defeating ACTA- A modern fairytale?

Not many people have anticipated that ACTA, the “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement” would cause so much discussion, protest and excitement when it was discussed last year. Even less people have foreseen that the protest movement against this trade agreement would become so powerful and impressive that it blew away the plans, driving the members of European Parliament to vote the draft down with an overwhelming majority.
It was the first time that the EU Parliaments used its new power that had been part of the “Lisbon Treaty,” and immediately the (until then) powerful European Commission proved to be a bad loser, putting all the blame on the mass level protest on social networks and lamenting about the hostility towards the treaty.
What had happened? Only weeks before the ACTA protests started, the law drafts for SOPA (Online Piracy Act) and PIPA, the Protect IP Act, evoked huge protests in the United States. The Wikipedia website had only shown the slogan "Imagine a world without free knowledge", thousands of other websites were switched off as well, protesting against regulations that would allow the shut down of websites with assumed protected content.
The success of the American protests fuelled the European resistance and led to more attention for ACTA, an agreement that had already been signed by by Canada, Japan, Australia, Morocco, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore, the USA and 22 of the 29 EU-member states. From Poland, the “No for ACTA” Movement spread all over Europe. Thousands of EU citizens, among them many who did not take part in political actions until then, took part in street demonstrations and demanded the rejection of ACTA by emails and phone calls to MEPs. 2.8 million citizens signed a petition to the EU Parliament, urging to reject the agreement. The protest on ACTA skipped from the internet to the streets and finally even into the European Parliament: the seemingly inevitable support for ACTA began to crumble, and the draft was voted down.
Of course it was not a coincidence that it was the issue of Internet freedom that mobilized the masses beyond national borders with significant help of social media. Internet-lovers and nerds knew how to use it for mobilization. As luck would have it, MEPs were caught off guard as they didn’t expect this wave of protest against a draft of minor importance. It was widely underestimated that ACTA had become a symbol for Internet freedom.
So this time, protest has worked and the reactions were enthusiastic, some even asking to send flowers of gratitude to Parliament members.
But as you know, fairy tales don't happen too often. So I'm sure, the Pro ACTA lobby will create a new name and start once again...

Mittwoch, 30. Januar 2013

Welcome to the dark side

We all know that quote, but in relation to Internet freedom and the freedom of the press, it is worth asking: which side is the dark side?

Unlike many governments want to make us believe, I think it is not necessarily the hackers and whistleblowers. (I even had to think about whether I wanted to write this, traceable, on the Internet).
But when we mentioned this famous photo in class, it really made me want to get more into this discussion.

I know this is not a short article, but very well worth the read, it is eye-opening especially in relation to the policy of the US government(s), although they are surely not the only ones who protect the real criminals and hunt down and arrest the ones who talk about these crimes publicly.

Now you don't have to be a friend of anonymous, and you might think that some secrets are secrets because the could affect 'national security', but after reading this, you'll probably have a more differentiated opinion. It seems as if hackers and whistleblowers are not the ones threatening our democracies - in fact they might some day in the future be the ones who save them by being the only ones who speak up and reveal the truth.

Montag, 21. Januar 2013

Small country, big idea

Iceland not only has glaciers and erupting volcanoes, it also has something innovative and unique: the first crowdsourced constitution.
According to this article, an astonishing 50% of the voting population took part in the process, suggesting their ideas in places like Facebook and Twitter. With this help, the constitution was then put together by a constitutional council, followed by a referendum in which 2/3 of the people voted in favor of the new constitution.
Now that is patricipatory politics for you!

Why is something like this not possible in other countries? To be fair, most other western democracies have a bigger population( Iceland only has around 320,000 inhabitants) and a smaller number of people with Internet access than Iceland ( 90% of the Icelandic population have an internet connection.)
Still, this does not explain why it seems impossible to have such an integrative political process in other countries.
In my view, the mentality of the citizens plays quite a big part in this. During the financial crisis, instead of bailing out banks, Iceland took in consideration what was best for the people and decided to not save the financial institutions. It was what he citizens demanded. And when they demanded a new constitution, they got one. Probably it is about time that we demand from our governments more possibilities for participation. We might get them if we are persistent enough.

Donnerstag, 17. Januar 2013

Going Viral Gangnam Style

Doing a silly little dance - does that make you an Internet VIP? No?
Maybe if you add a catchy tune and a tasteless costume then?

What makes people want to watch a video like Gangnam Style no matter what their cultural or educational background is? When do videos go viral?

Obviously even the clever marketing strategists haven't yet found out how exactly content of social media goes viral, or rather: how to produce content that does. But we can take a closer look to see which things might indicate that a video, picture or meme could go viral.

Some first hints provides this article on Wikihow about going viral. Next to talking about how to promote content so that it gets spread, they also mention certain characteristics of that content: awe-inspiring, triggering emotions, positiveness, quirkiness and interesting topics or cute cast like babies and cats.

YouTube's Trendmanager Allocca in this interesting video talks about videos going viral and identifies some of the successes ingredients: tastemakers who make a video popular, creative participation by the community (that takes on the video and changes it or builds something new with it) and unexpectedness.

This site even monitors which videos go viral in real time. The categories under which the films are stored include animals, crazy, cute, funny, music, sports and nerds. It seems to proof what the other articles describe as relevant, as it shows a lot of human interaction provoking emotions, cute or funny clips of animals and babies or crazy, unusual sports.

Gangnam Style's success, considering this ingredients, then is not so surprising. It is crazy, funny and unexpected, it has a catchy tune (so includes the music aspect as well) and it provides the opportunity for multiple alterations and parodies by a creative community.

Still, the success of videos can't be planned and having a video going viral remains a bit of a mystique rather than a coordinated effort with a clear outcome.