Author Archive

Social media and politics

I’ve taken the liberty to post one of our reading group member’s post on the topic we discussed three sessions ago.

From here.

cheers, Rod


Last week, the Rowell Reading Group finally got around to discussing Cherian George’s 2005 paper on ‘internet’s political impact’. He is the author of a popular book The Airconditioned Nation and a blog by the same.  The discussion on this paper has been pending for two weeks. The energy levels in the Reading group have been rather low. Some of it could be just due to the fact that we have chosen a rather busy time to meet – 5.30pm to 7pm on Sunday. T and J, the hosts are very distracted during this time as it is also a busy time for the Food03. Others have some engagement or the other to go back to in the late evening. So now we have changed the time to 3.30 to 5pm. Hopefully it will improve things.

I chose this particular article because there is now a sizeable number of people in this city who believe that the internet is opening up all kinds of new political possibilities. The most recent illustration that this is indeed so is the unprecedented mobilization against the way a small group of women captured AWARE – one of a handful of civil society organizations in the city and began to rewrite the organization’s agendas. Here is a link to one of the articles in Straits Times in the run up to the massive show of solidarity by nearly 3000 people at the extraordinary general body meeting which ousted the new executive committee.

The discussion meandered through “why academic writing often fails to be interesting” and “the role of the internet in recent developments in Malaysian ethnic identity politics” to “the history of the internet use in this city.” I took away one insight (thanks T, for spelling it out); and a question (thanks R for prompting me to ask); and a bunch of notes (thanks S for jotting down).

The insight is that, in a situation where it appears that nothing about the way people think and act seems to be changing, changes in technology can actually be a source of great optimism. Simply by making people do things differently, communicate and connect differently, social media is bringing about a lot of change silently. To put it succinctly, social media is the space where people are rehearsing participation. If the way, every now and then large numbers of people are prompted, mobilized enough to act in concert off the internet too, it is reasonable to expect that as technological change deepens, we will begin to see its consequences in political practice.

The question is: mobilizations in this city that seem to start on the internet and fall out into the real world, are at least until now merely one off events. This is because the social media through which these mobilizations happen also imply a lot of distractions. Is there any way at all to influence how things happen or are internet mobilizations like those inexplicable natural phenomena – where somehow a random event somewhere starts a chain of responses that are entirely unpredictable?

And today, I received this message from a mailing list for an event that i cannot attend would have loved to. Speakers at the Social Media for Mobilization panel discussion in Bangalore’s Center for Internet and Society will be addressing similar questions, I hope.