Monday, November 2, 2009

Social Movements and Cell Phones

Two of the readings for this week (Hanson & Castells) mention the Zapatista movement in Southern Mexico as an example of the networking power of the internet. The indigenous people in Mexico used the internet and the media to incorporate diverse actors in their campaign and to gain worldwide solidarity. Jeffrey Juris mentions that using the internet as technological infrastructure, movements are increasingly “glocal, operating at both local and global level while seamlessly integrating both the online and off-line political activity.” Castell's article on 'Mobile Civil Society' provides various other examples in Korea, Spain and Philippines of sociopolitical movements using mobile phones to disperse information and gather people for protests.

In the Philippines case, we see that the movement called People Power II was effective in demanding President Estrada be held accountable for corruption and misuse of government money (including buying his mistress a house). As Castells mentions, the nodes in the network who were sharing information were not monitored by the state, much less controlled. However, in the Philippines, mobile phones are only available to 13.8% of all Filipinos, mostly owned and used by the middle-class. We have to take the digital divide into consideration. Although the poor didn't have access to phones, they were still able to organize to support Estrada. Castells notes that mobile phones worked closely with other media, such as internet and radio, “in order to deliver actual political consequences.” The 'Poor People Power' campaign wasn't as successful, but would it have been had they had access to cell phones and/or internet? Could they have kept Estrada in power while the middle and upper classes gathered to get him out?

In Korea, Roh Moo-Huyn's campaign raised 7 million dollars on the internet. In this case, mobile phones were widely used to harness support for the presidential candidate. Mobile phones were a “quintessential grassroots communication gadget that is always on, anywhere, anytime.” In this case, even after Rho's election, the Nosamo (internet group) members were suggesting appointees to Cabinet positions and engaging in debates. They're involvement was not limited to creating pre-election buzz and helping to get Rho elected, but also to continually being involved. They served as watchdogs in observing and criticizing. People withdrew from Nosamo when Roh sent engineering and medical troops to Iraq. The Nosamo members clearly helped Roh get elected and felt that they had the right to voice their opinions on the internet or otherwise once he was in office.

In Spain, the Partido Popular (PP) was not as successful in spreading the message that the train bombings in Madrid were caused by Basque terrorists. They started an SMS network, but did not reach a critical mass and was not credible to those already doubting the government. People did forward messages that they agreed with, from sources they trusted, and also set up locations and times to meet for demonstrations. Radio played a role as well. The government had been lying about the Basque being the perpetrators to get more votes, but instead the socialists won. The opposition and those against the Partido Popular knew that they were disseminating false information. People “were able to set up powerful, broad, personalized, instant networks of communication.”

In the U.S., during the 2004 Republican convention, protestors used blogs, cell phones and special texting networks to spread messages about locations and police sightings. However, police and security were also using mobile technologies to monitor protestors and allegedly infiltrated protestors' meetings and texts. The use of texting in this case was somewhat effective, but not necessarily for political change. The convention went on and Bush eventually won the election. There were other problems with this case because there was no clear stated goal. There were many goals and protestors were there for different reasons. The main goal was not necessarily to keep Bush out of office.

I find the brief mention of the Berlusconi case in the conclusion interesting since the Italian Prime minister has been quenching the media's opposition and reports about his love affairs and misconduct. The briefly mentioned case, was that Berlusconi sent text messages before the election for support. He noticed what had happened in Spain and the loss of the PP, so he decided it would be beneficial for him to use texts to garner votes. But, he actually lost the regional election by a larger margin than anticipated. People felt that their private and political privacy had been invaded by the prime minister. He did not understand that the texts being disseminated in Spain and other countries where being sent to people whom the sender knew. There was some trust or reliability. “Person-to-person, horizontal, mass communication, rather than a new technology for top-down mass communication.”

Castell notes that the cell phone is not the only thing that creates new political forces, but it does help to have “a means of perpetual contact.” Basically, you can't give the cell phone all the credit or exaggerate their power as the most important or sole device, but it does have some unique capacities. Wireless communication is a two-edged sword. It can help or damage and have positive or negative affects.

The author claims that the use of wireless communication has not had any significant effect on political events in the US. I'm not sure when this article was written, but I think that the 2008 election, cell phones and the internet played a big role. To what extent did virtual social networks assist Obama, that I'm not sure, but it'd be interesting to see if there are current successful sociopolitical events in the US that were facilitated and caused by or affected by wireless technologies.

( I read this article today about Korean cultural homogeneity and Korean women. It mentions a TV show where Caucasian women discuss South Korea. We have mentioned the Soap Opera phenomena in class before and how the imports have affected beauty standards, etc. It's not specifically about mobile technology or sociopolitical movements, but it's an interesting article. ))

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