The evolution of revolution
Free the carrier pigeon, abandon Morse code, and overlook Radio Free Europe (RFE).
The fact is, a new type of communication is at the forefront of today’s political revolutions. Today, rebellions organized via-social networking sites are emerging as the newest trend in conflict initiation.
Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and mobile phone text messaging have become breeding grounds for rebel and dissident movements worldwide. Now only a click away, supporting a coup has never been so easy.
While Canadian university students use Facebook to plan birthdays, charity bake sales, and bar nights, Moldovan students have used it to plan uprisings against their Communist government.
In countries where speaking out against the government is not tolerated, many young activists have been forced to find creative avenues to pursue aggressive action for their cause.
Interestingly, many have turned to the social networking sites they know all too well as a means to articulate dissent and to orchestrate revolt.
While this may appear groundbreaking, according to the Washington Post, throughout history, “Protesters have often used new technologies to evade government attempts to stifle dissent.” The Washington Post notes, even when the Soviet Union appeared on the verge of collapse,
“Dissenters used underground fax services to spread information.”
New media technologies provide vital communication links. Exploiting such communication avenues, while evading governmental interference, is the key to raising awareness for a political cause. Undeniably, this is the future of revolution.
In April, political unrest bred outright civil disobedience in Moldova’s capital of Chisinau.
Activists, expressing discontent over the Communist Party’s recent re-election victory,
overwhelmed the police presence and effectively stormed the country’s parliament buildings. Upon retreat, the dissidents left the government offices in ruins and the typically heavy-handed Communist government in utter bewilderment.
According to RFE, the entire act was organized and carried out using a combination of Twitter, Facebook, mobile phone text messaging, blogs, and e-mail.
RFE reports that even as online access to news organizations and opposition parties was blacked out by the Communist government, organizers simply switched to using Facebook to plan and spread information about upcoming demonstrations. The online organization made it impossible for the Moldovan government to monitor or control the students’ activities.
This summer, Twitter was also a major player in Iran’s ongoing political drama. In June, as Iranian President Ahmadinejad claimed re-election victory, many took to the streets in protest. According to the Washington Post, these demonstrations were entirely prearranged via Facebook and Twitter.
The Washington Post reports that Twitter’s influence on the Iranian political situation was so profound that even U.S. government officials took notice.
In turn, the U.S. State Department asked Twitter to postpone scheduled maintenance of their site, as to not disrupt communication between the dissident movement organizers and their supporters within Iran’s borders.
During the uprising, the mainstream media even grew dependent on Twitter updates as the Iranian government barred the press from entering the country.
On some occasions, the Washington Post reports, “The predominant information [was] coming from Twitter.”
In light of this summer’s events, many in Iran have since coined the revolt “a Twitter revolution.”
Terrorists, not to be left out of this new trend, have begun to use social networking technologies to their benefit as well.
The BBC reports that Al-Shabab, a radical insurgent Islamic group with reported links to Al-Qaeda, conducts all of its communication via text messages.
The group, operating within war-ravaged Somalia, reportedly organizes its troops, communicates between them, and issues threats to opposing parties using mobile phone text messaging systems.
According to the BBC, low-ranking military officers are given pre-paid phone cards by elite members of the group.
This way, the leadership of al-Shabab is allowed the disguise of complete anonymity and never even has to set foot in Somali territory.
The developing world, however, is not the only one getting in on the social networking action.
While hardly a rebellion, Barack Obama’s successful 2008 presidential campaign is an example of effective use of modern communication technologies.
The Obama team hired Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes to promote the Democratic hopeful online.
It worked. Obama’s web campaign was revolutionary and unarguably successful in targeting the youth vote, which has traditionally been a difficult demographic to get out to the polls.
Social networking sites have become a powerful political tool throughout the world.
As this technology continues to evolve, it may become better known for its revolutionary potential than its social networking capabilities.