21st Century Resistance Movements

by Christopher Tunnard

A question on many people’s minds is to what extent the success of current political and social resistance movements is (or is becoming) dependent on Facebook, Twitter, mobile texting, and the like. It seems fair to say, as Secretary Clinton did today, that social media, networked by new technologies, have facilitated the formation of resistance movements in countries like Tunisia and Egypt, where success of the type that they have recently achieved was not anticipated.

Recent press articles have reported stories like that of the April 6th movement in Egypt, which was founded on that date in 2008 and whose founders set up a Facebook group as its operational platform. It is also emerging that SMS (mobile messaging) became an important tool for protest organizers in Tunisia, especially when the government began a concerted campaign of keystroke-logging aimed at intercepting the log-in information of all the Internet users in the country.

While the innovative use of available technologies may not be in dispute, the relative importance of them on the outcomes will be argued for the foreseeable future. However, this question does not deal with the issue of fundamental, qualitative change in the organizations themselves. It is remarkable that two of the longest-tenured “democratic dictators” were forced from power by non-violent movements that lasted only a few weeks, at least in their final phase of open demonstrations. So, perhaps a more interesting question is: are new types of networked resistance communities emerging, ones that are fundamentally shaped by the innovative use of 21st-century tools and technologies?

This is a longer-term research question that some of us here at Fletcher who are interested in research at the nexus of social networks, social movements, and new technologies have begun to discuss this week. We hope to mount a collaborative effort on the data-collection front, as this will involve sifting through a massive amount of information coming out about the use of social media and the networks they helped to create. If you’re interested in participating, check out our initial effort at http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/21st-C … 4308775758, or send me an email: christopher.tunnard@tufts.edu

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