Four Factors Needed To Make Technology A 'Liberation' Technology

from the understanding-activism dept

There’s been something of a silly debate going on for a while now, about whether or not various technologies and social media tools “help” or “hurt” democratic or populist uprisings. Of course, technology is just a tool, and it can be used for good reasons, bad reasons and perfectly neutral reasons. Technology itself is not the impetus behind any of this stuff… but as a tool, it can be used to accelerate, enhance or emphasize certain aspects of what’s going on. So while the general debate is silly, it is important to understand the factors that make technology useful in these scenarios. Mathew Ingram points us to an interesting attempt by Mary Joyce to break down what factors really need to be present to make a technology useful for “liberation” as opposed to “repression.” You can read all of the details at the link above, but the headline version is:

  1. It must transmit political information
  2. It must be accessible to a large segment of the population
  3. It must allow for effective utilization
  4. It must allow for protection of privacy

The article also argues that “repression technologies” requires the reverse. I’m not sure I completely believe that. For example, something that is available to a large segment of the population can certainly be used for repression as well. Still, it is an interesting framework for thinking about how these technology tools are used (or not) in various political conflicts.

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Comments on “Four Factors Needed To Make Technology A 'Liberation' Technology”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“5. it must allow for rampant piracy”

They all do.

“6. it must be entirely untracable”

None will ever be.

“7. it must be free, without costs, and assembled by coders only pure of heart.”

Rarely happens. Most coders don’t bother to assemble their own code (they are lazy and usually rely on a compiler to do that).

Anonymous Coward says:

While the technology itself may be neutral, the nature of that technology may make it naturally excel at one way or another among these points.

But is that really important?

Think creatively. For example, while a lot of companies blocks FTP connections, I’ve yet to see a firewall/network filter which filters FTP chat function. That’s also a few BBS system that uses SSH. There’s also communication software that splits your messages into fragments and store in different mailbox, and allow the others to fetch these fragments and merge together.

Lasse says:

To thwart a technology’s use for liberation, you need only reverse one of the four. Any one, probably.
If it doesn’t transmit political information, it’s just theater for masses.
If it’s not widely available, it won’t engage enough people to reach a critical mass.
Effectiveness I’m not sure about, if people are repressed enough, they’ll probably put up with some inconvenience.
If there is no privacy, it’s just a way to expose opposition so that they are easier to remove.

Against a repressive and powerful opponent, this is a security problem. You need availability, authenticity and secrecy to get your message out without being impersonated, intercepted or stopped. At least long enough to get the masses engaged.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I think you also really need openness, the free flow of ideas and the ability for anyone to freely contribute thoughts, information, and news unregulated from any form of governmental prior restraint. Otherwise, you end up with a mainstream media that only provides you with the opinions of big corporations, has very poor journalistic integrity, pathologically lies (though our media doesn’t lie so much anymore because the Internet makes it much harder to get away with it), censors those which whom they disagree with, etc…

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Wall Newspapers and Television.

I would like to talk about an odd kind of newspaper, which flourished for a time, before being replaced by an electronic medium as a means of repression. This was the Chinese “wall newspaper,” up to about the time of the death of Chairman Mao and the downfall of the “Gang of Four,” and to the Tiananmen Square Massacre. People would post pieces of paper on walls, with a greater or lesser likelihood of being arrested, as the case might be, and other people would stand around and read the pieces of paper, and talk about them, again, with a greater or lesser likelihood of being arrested. The range of materials ran from a printed copy of an official newspaper to so-called “big character” manifestos (hand-written with a traditional ink brush, and posted by individuals, and, by definition, extremely subversive). Wall newspapers were traditionally free to read.

(see Roger Garside, _Coming Alive: China After Mao_, 1981. Garside, a British diplomat, went and talked to the rebellious students at the time of the downfall of the “Gang of Four,” and gives a good idea of the political culture of the wall newspaper)

In the twenty years or so, after the downfall of the “Gang of Four,” and before the rise of the Internet, the Chinese authorities produced hundreds of millions of television sets, to the point that the average family has one, and the circulation of newspapers fell by a factor of three. Television, an inherently undemocratic medium, tended to “atomize” the public and keep it out of the public agora-space in which the wall-newspaper had flourished. Effectively, by carrying its message to the viewer’s home, offering a discount in the form of convenience, state-controlled television sought to outbid the “big character” press. Television, when everyone has his own receiver, places the individual alone, in a posture of acquiescent silence, before a gigantic authority-figure. The Internet, of course, re-opened the game, allowing a continuation of the “big character” publications, only on an electronic wall instead of a physical wall.

Anonymous Coward says:

The fifth:

– Anonymous:

Another lawyer bite the dust.

Like vampires bloodsuckers, lawyer firms are being dragged kicking an screaming to the 21th century and need to learn how network security works. Hint is not about technology but protocols to deal with human nature.

Jack Jersawitz (profile) says:

Revolutions and technology

You all seem to have your heads in those screens otherwise you would look for the answers as to revolutions in the histories of the same.

For starters look to the Haitian revolution against French imperialism, the first and only successful slave revolution ever carried out with no technology at all.

Or the great French Revolution that ultimately brought the French bourgeoisie to power; all they had was some guns and a few cannon.

Or the Russian Revolution which you can read about in Leon Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution available on line in The Marx – Engels Internet Archive. Be prepared for something like a thousand pages on social movement and revolution. What startled me was reading the other day a comment in the NY Times pointing out that The Soviets taught children in school the elements of successful revolution, elements those heroic but uneducated in revolution folks in Tahir Square would greatly benefit from.

Or how about the Afghan revolution against U.S. imperialism and their puppet government? All the anti-imperialist fighters have are a few guns and some explosives.

Revolution is not about technology. Deficiencies in that department can be overcome. What is essential is a population unable any longer to live in the old way, a conscious leadership whose aims coincide with the needs and wishes of the mass of society, and deliberate and effective action to take control of the centers of communication (Drums, telephone, or internet), and the government.

The Bolsheviks made their revolution by seizing the Petrograd phone exchange, and with the help of a battleship manned by revolutionary sailors bombarding the Winter Palace from a battleship on the Nevsky River, seized the palace and the government meeting therein but helpless because as I heard Kerensky say many years later at Occidental College in California, “If only I had one loyal regiment.”

Technology is secondary. Primary is a resolute leadership that has done the hard and arduous work of winning the support of the masses, the military rank and file (Or at least neutralizing them so they reject the orders of their commanders and remain in barracks) and resolute action seizing as I said the centers of government and communications. Kerensky had no loyal regiment because they all sided with the Bolsheviks who represented land, bread, freedom, and an end to the war.

Jack Jersawitz

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