December 8, 2013. Merlyna Lim: Social Media and Dissident Movements. Merlyna gave a great presentation on December 8, 2013 is an Assistant Professor at the Consortium for Science Technology at Arizona State and is visiting at Princeton this year. Her work focuses on the role of social media and new technologies in fostering activism, with obvious recent concentration on the Mid- and Far- east. Here is a link to her faculty page.
Her presentation was about her research into the role of new media in the Mid and Far east protest movements with fascinating observations about where it is — and is not– actually helpful. For example, contrary to popular conception, these movements did not just erupt in the past few years, but had long development stages going back to the late 90s during which the social connections necessary for their recent “eruptions” were formed. Texting took the place of face–to–face meetings in countries where severe government regulation of social gatherings was in place. However, social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, were much more important as a way of getting different sectors of society (rather than individuals) to communicate. In this sense, these media served as “brokers” between different, otherwise disconnected, parts of the society.
Interestingly, the success of these media often turned on their being used by traditional community groups, such as soccer clubs in Egypt, which had huge followings quite accustomed to taking the streets (if for other purposes). We learned a lot with the above being just a smattering.
Cathy blogged about Merlyna’s talk on Mathbabe on Dec. 9.
We can take hope and guidance from Merlyna’s thoughts. The strategy of using new media to “broker” connections to roughly like-minded communities is not one we have adequately pursued, but is something these pages hopefully begin to address. The fact that we meet every week in person is not an anachronism, but a necessary feature of a modern movement. And the fact that our protests are at times thinly attended, should urge us to work harder, but not dismay. Our actions may serve as examples, whether we ever know it, to people who see them; they bond us as a group, and they may eventually have synergy with our and our friends’ new media efforts to attract a greater crowd.