Bookmarked Do Protests Even Work? (The Atlantic)

Movements, and their protests, are powerful because they change the minds of people, including those who may not even be participating in them, and they change the lives of their participants.


In the long term, protests work because they can undermine the most important pillar of power: legitimacy.

Zeynep Tufekci explores the potential of protests to challenge the legitimacy of those in power. As she explains, what would have taken years to coordinate in the past can now be organised in days with apps and digital platforms. This lack of friction can subsequently dilute the impact of such movements. However, what can make a protest more pertinent is the level of risk associated with it. As Tufekci highlights with the current situation in America.

The current Black Lives Matter protest wave is definitely high risk through the double whammy of the pandemic and the police response. The police, the entity being protested, have unleashed so much brutality that in just three weeks, at least eight people have already lost eyesight to rubber bullets. One Twitter thread dedicated to documenting violent police misconduct is at 600 entries and counting. And nobody seems safe—not even a 75-year-old avowed peacenik who was merely in the way of a line of cops when he was shoved so violently that he fell and cracked his skull. Chillingly, the police walked on as he bled on the ground. After the video came out to widespread outrage, and the two police officers who shoved him were suspended, their fellow officers on the active emergency-response team resigned to support their colleagues. Plus the pandemic means that protesters who march in crowds, face tear gas, and risk jail and detention in crowded settings are taking even more risks than usual.

The challenge with any protest is the fear repression. This is what stopped the Chinese protests in 1989 and the Egyptian protests in 2013. However, such measures have their limits.

Force and repression can keep things under control for a while, but it also makes such rule more brittle.

The challenge to power and repression is overcome by changing the culture and conversation. This is required to undermine the legitimacy.

Legitimacy, not repression, is the bedrock of resilient power.

This is why Anne Helen Petersen argues that small protests in small towns matter because there have been a lot of them, therefore the bedrock is crumbling.

Rebecca Solnit uses the metaphor of a waterfall to describe such change:

The metaphor of the river of time is often used to suggest that history flows at a steady pace, but real rivers have rapids and shallows, eddies and droughts. They freeze over and get dammed and their water gets diverted. And sometimes the river comes to the precipice and we’re all in the waterfall. Time accelerates, things change faster than anyone expected, water clear as glass becomes churning whitewater, what was thought to be impossible or the work of years is accomplished in a flash

When they are a consensus idea, that’s the end of the insurrection, or the waterfall, and politicians are smoothing things over and people have accepted the idea that they at first resisted, whether it’s the abolition of slavery or the right to marriage equality

Although she suggests there are groups who deserve credit for escalating the current situation.

One more group deserves credit for the present moment: the police. They themselves have made a fantastic case for defunding or abolition—at least as they currently exist. Nationwide, with the whole world watching, these civil servants showed they use public funds to brutalize, murder, and deny the constitutional rights of members of that public. One might imagine they’d have wanted to be careful in the wake of the Floyd murder, but they went on a spectacular display of their own sense of immunity by—well, shooting out the eyes of eight people with “sublethal” weapons, managing to blind a photojournalist in one eye; attacking and arresting dozens of members of the media at work, especially nonwhite ones; San Jose police shooting their own anti-bias trainer in the testicles; knocking over an old man who’s still in critical condition as a result (yeah the one Trump theorized must be Antifa); teargassing children; pointing weapons at other small children; and generally showing us that the only people the police protect are the police. They struck the match that lit the bonfire. Because they thought they could not themselves burn, and that they were indispensable. They’re wrong on both counts.

The Black Lives Matter movement itself has been building since 2013.

However, as Stan Grant highlights in regards to the recognition of Australia’s indigenous people in the consitution, such success can be a long time coming. This is something Doug Belshaw touches on in his reading of Guy Debord’s Comments on the Society of the Spectacle

Here is the problem for the person, or group of people, wishing to smash the spectacle, to dismantle it, to take it apart. It must be done in one go, rather than piecemeal. Otherwise, the spectacle has too much capacity to self-repair.

Liked I Can’t Breathe: Braving Tear Gas in a Pandemic (The Atlantic)

And that’s the most remarkable part of these protests, now in their second sustained week nationwide. It’s not that the protesters are unaware of the risks; it’s that they are out there in spite of these risks, to say that black lives matter. Eric Garner couldn’t breathe. George Floyd couldn’t breathe. And now, by showing up day after day, even amid a widespread crackdown, the protesters are facing the risk of not just the tear gas that will cut off their breath, but also the very disease whose hallmark is dyspnea, the inability to breathe.

Bookmarked How Hong Kong Did It (The Atlantic)

The people of Hong Kong know who’s actually behind the city’s success. A recent poll of 23 nations found that Hong Kong came in third-lowest in citizens’ scoring of their government’s handling of the crisis. They know their reality is difficult, but they also refuse to surrender to despair.

There’s a lesson here, as the United States deals with staggering levels of incompetence at the federal level. Stories have been written by doctors in major hospitals in the U.S. about how they tried to source masks in the black market and disguised PPE shipments in food trucks to avoid their seizure by the federal government. As Taiwan and South Korea show, timely response by a competent government can make the difference between surrendering to a major outbreak and returning to a well-functioning, open society without lockdowns or deaths. But Hong Kong also teaches that people aren’t helpless, even when their government isn’t helpful.

Bookmarked

Zeynep Tufekci explains that being prepared is a public good that helps everyone. The Prepared has a list of suggestions, while NPR provides a guide to prepare your home for coronavirus.
Bookmarked How the Coronavirus Revealed Authoritarianism’s Fatal Flaw (The Atlantic)

China’s use of surveillance and censorship makes it harder for Xi Jinping to know what’s going on in his own country.

Zeynep Tufekci discusses the culture of coverups that created the initial spread of the Coronavirus.

Contrary to common belief, the killer digital app for authoritarianism isn’t listening in on people through increased surveillance, but listening to them as they express their honest opinions, especially complaints. An Orwellian surveillance-based system would be overwhelming and repressive, as it is now in China, but it would also be similar to losing sensation in parts of one’s body due to nerve injuries. Without the pain to warn the brain, the hand stays on the hot stove, unaware of the damage to the flesh until it’s too late.

Bookmarked

Zeynep Tufekci provides a thread documenting her experience of the Hong Kong Protests. Not only does she include various observations, but she also curates a number of other resources.
Bookmarked What Game of Thrones can teach us about technology: It’s changing the game that matters, not picking the winner by an author (Zeynep’s Eclectics)

As it stands, machine intelligence functions an extension of corporations and power.

And that’s why all the stories are interlinked: from Wall Street to venture capital; from ridiculous startups to Uber/Lyft model of burning VC money till (the company hopes) it becomes a monopoly; from stagnation in wages to automation in the workplace.

Machine intelligence isn’t only an extension of power, and it doesn’t even have to be mostly that. But it is mostly that where we are.

That’s a story much bigger than Zuckerberg, Dorsey, Schmidt, Sandberg, Brin who-have-you. It’s also a story of Wall Street and increasing financialization of the world; it’s a story of what people are calling neoliberalism that’s been underway for decades. It is also a technical story: of machine learning and data surveillance, and our current inability deal with the implications of the whole technological stack as it is composed: hardware firmware mostly manufactured in China. Software everywhere that I’ve previously compared to building skyscrapers on swampy land. Our fundamentally insecure designs. Perhaps, more importantly our lack of functioning, sustainable alternatives that respect us, rather than act as extensions of their true owners.

Zeynep Tufekci elaborates on her post explaining the problems with Game of Thrones. She explains how technology extends the human. In this sense, technology is a system.
Bookmarked The Real Reason Fans Hate the Last Season of Game of Thrones by an author (Scientific American Blog Network)

The show did indeed take a turn for the worse, but the reasons for that downturn goes way deeper than the usual suspects that have been identified (new and inferior writers, shortened season, too many plot holes). It’s not that these are incorrect, but they’re just superficial shifts. In fact, the souring of Game of Thrones exposes a fundamental shortcoming of our storytelling culture in general: we don’t really know how to tell sociological stories.

Zeynep Tufekci argues that the reason why so many fans are complaining about the last season of Game of Thrones is because the storytelling style changed from sociological to psychological.

The overly personal mode of storytelling or analysis leaves us bereft of deeper comprehension of events and history. Understanding Hitler’s personality alone will not tell us much about rise of fascism, for example. Not that it didn’t matter, but a different demagogue would probably have appeared to take his place in Germany in between the two bloody world wars in the 20th century. Hence, the answer to “would you kill baby Hitler?,” sometimes presented as an ethical time-travel challenge, should be “no,” because it would very likely not matter much. It is not a true dilemma.

Tufekci explains that this is the same reason we have problems talking about historic technological transition.

In my own area of research and writing, the impact of digital technology and machine intelligence on society, I encounter this obstacle all the time. There are a significant number of stories, books, narratives and journalistic accounts that focus on the personalities of key players such as Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, Jack Dorsey and Jeff Bezos. Of course, their personalities matter, but only in the context of business models, technological advances, the political environment, (lack of) meaningful regulation, the existing economic and political forces that fuel wealth inequality and lack of accountability for powerful actors, geopolitical dynamics, societal characteristics and more.

Maybe this is a part of what Douglas Rushkoff touches on in his criticism of storytelling.

Liked Maria Ressa, Zeynep Tufekci, and others on the growing disinformation war (Columbia Journalism Review)

On one panel, Ressa; Emily Bell, of the Tow Center; and Zeynep Tufekci, a techno-sociologist who writes for The New York Times and Wired, discussed the overwhelming effect of junk information on our public sphere, and the role of social media platforms in disseminating it. Tufekci argued that, in the 21st century, a surfeit of information, rather than its absence, poses the biggest problem. “When I was growing up in Turkey, the way censorship occurred was there was one TV channel and they wouldn’t show you stuff. That was it,” she said. “Currently, in my conceptualization, the way censorship occurs is by information glut. It’s not that the relevant information isn’t out there. But it is buried in so much information of suspect credibility that it doesn’t mean anything.” Tufekci cited the frenzied reporting, during the 2016 election, on WikiLeaks’s dump of hacked Democratic Party emails—much of which lacked crucial context—as a malign example of the trend. “I don’t think traditional journalism has caught up on this,” she said.

Bookmarked Opinion | Think You’re Discreet Online? Think Again (nytimes.com)

What is to be done? Designing phones and other devices to be more privacy-protected would be start, and government regulation of the collection and flow of data would help slow things down. But this is not the complete solution. We also need to start passing laws that directly regulate the use of computational inference: What will we allow to be inferred, and under what conditions, and subject to what kinds of accountability, disclosure, controls and penalties for misuse?

Zeynep Tufekci explains that with the use of computational inference, purchasing of data and the creation of shadow profiles, companies know more about use than what we maybe explicitly sharing online.
Bookmarked Reporting a massacre: Why the ABC didn’t share the shooter’s ‘manifesto’ (ABC News)

Social media platforms have made some changes to tackle hate speech and violent behaviour, but they could choose to do more. They could set higher standards for removing offensive video and messages.

Free speech is unimaginable without the right to dissent — but commentators, opinion writers and politicians also have choices to make in the example they set.

In the end though it’s on all of us — in the news sources we rely on, the social networks we join and what we choose to watch and share.

Craig McMurtrie unpacks the decision by the ABC to not publish extracts of the Christchurch shooter’s ‘manifesto’. Every move made seems to have be orchestrated to grab attention. As Robert Evans from Bellingcat explains, it is an example of
Shit posting:

The act of throwing out huge amounts of content, most of it ironic, low-quality trolling, for the purpose of provoking an emotional reaction in less Internet-savvy viewers.

Zeynep Tufekci backed this stance on Twitter:

Tufekci linked to a couple of posts she wrote in response to Sandy Hook Massacre and the Virginia shooter explaining the dangers of feeding copycat scenarios.

This focus on media manipulation also reminded me of dana boyd’s discussion of 4Chan’s association with fake news.

Liked

Bookmarked Shouldn’t We All Have Seamless Micropayments By Now? (WIRED)

The web’s founders fully expected some form of digital payment to be integral to its functioning. But nearly three decades later, we’re still waiting.

Zeynep Tufekci discusses the problems with current online payment systems. She suggests that micropayments offer a potential for innovation and opportunity.

Marginalia

For all the talk of disruption, today’s internet is still young and hugely underinnovated. While it’s difficult to predict all the details—that’s the point of disruption!—I have little doubt that it’s technically possible to build a digital infrastructure that rewards creativity at many scales and protects our privacy. Bitcoin is not the answer, for a variety of reasons, but a blockchain scheme, along with a mixture of more conventional systems and cryptographic tools, might play a part. Whatever the solution is, we just need a combination of vision, smart regulation, and true innovation to advance it.

Right now, we’re stuck where the automobile industry was when cars were still “horseless carriages,” wagon-wheeled monstrosities with high centers of gravity and buggy seats. We’re still letting an older technology—credit cards, designed for in-­person transactions, with high fees and financial surveillance baked in—determine the shape of a new technological paradigm. As a result, that paradigm has become twisted and monopolized by its biggest players. This is one of the modern internet’s greatest errors; it’s past time that we encounter “402 Payment Required” for real.

Replied to Too Long; Didn’t Read #171 by Ian O’Byrne (W. Ian O’Byrne)

I’m currently reading Twitter and Tear Gas by Zeynep Tufekci. It’s a fascinating read that is making me question a lot of my thinking about these digital, social spaces.

I too have started reading Twitter and Tear Gas. I too am being challenged by it. I somehow thought that it wouldn’t be applicable in the field of EdTech. What it has me thinking is that in ‘networked publics’ there is not imaginary line where EdTech (whatever that actually means) starts and stops.

Thank you too for the shoutout. It definitely has sparked some interesting conversation. I read a post today about mindfulness apps, yet it overlooked the collection of data associated with the completion of various. We are asked to be conscious of our breathing, yet ignore the data that we share on a daily basis.

RSVPed Interested in Attending Our next book club reading is Zeynep Tufekci’s Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest

Our next book club reading has been decided! After a furious polling, the winner is…

…Zeynep Tufekci, Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest.

Liked An Avalanche of Speech Can Bury Democracy (POLITICO Magazine)

It’s not speech per se that allows democracies to function, but the ability to agree—eventually, at least some of the time—on what is true, what is important and what serves the public good. This doesn’t mean everyone must agree on every fact, or that our priorities are necessarily uniform. But democracy can’t operate completely unmoored from a common ground, and certainly not in a sea of distractions.

via Mike Caulfield
Bookmarked How social media took us from Tahrir Square to Donald Trump (MIT Technology Review)

To understand how digital technologies went from instruments for spreading democracy to weapons for attacking it, you have to look beyond the technologies themselves.

Zeynep Tufekci captures some of the complexities associated with fixing up big tech. A few things that stand out is that the answer is not splitting up big tech or simply respond to the threat of Russia. As she explains:

Russia did not instigate the moves that have reduced Americans’ trust in health authorities, environmental agencies, and other regulators. Russia did not create the revolving door between Congress and the lobbying firms that employ ex-politicians at handsome salaries. Russia did not defund higher education in the United States. Russia did not create the global network of tax havens in which big corporations and the rich can pile up enormous wealth while basic government services get cut.

Instead we need to:

Figure out how our institutions, our checks and balances, and our societal safeguards should function in the 21st century.

Liked Opinion | What Elon Musk Should Learn From the Thailand Cave Rescue (nytimes.com)

Just because you’re a successful tech mogul doesn’t mean you know how to rescue kids trapped underground.

Tufekci also takes this discussion further on Twitter: