Crazy Pills

Will there be more (or any) Internet Revolutions? by fluffly
June 14, 2010, 12:38 pm
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A year after the reportedly stolen election in Iran that saw the rise of the Green Movement (now a non-entity, forced out of the public sphere by government crackdowns), conversation turned to a retrospective on the role that Twitter played in organizing the initial street protests and rallies that marked the remarkable opposition to the government.  At the time, the reactions and bold resistance to the government earned the moniker “the Twitter revolution” thanks to the role the site played in allowing news to filter out to the rest of the world.  But more importantly to supporters of that label, it was because of Twitter that the opposition was even able to organize.  Twitter provided a medium, outside the control of the government, for angry Iranians to rouse their fellow citizens and cement a unified opposition through the sharing of stories and disaffection while rapidly and widely getting the word out about times and locations for Green Movement rallies.  Twitter was the catalyst and the means for the Iranians to vent their anger and stand up to their government.

Not so, according to many who have deemed the Twitter Revolution more hype than reality.  Twitter was certainly helpful in spreading stories of government repression and letting protesters know where to be, but it did not create the Green Movement, nor did its use suddenly empower Iranians.  Golnaz Esfandiari does an excellent job of summarizing these arguments that “Twitter’s impact inside Iran is nil.”  Twitter helped, but a year later, it is clearer that it was more useful to those outside Iran, than those doing the actual organizing and protesting.

I bring this up now because as I look at the Free Gaza flotilla, I am struck by the lack of a role that Twitter played in contrast.  The flotilla was, like the protests in Iran, organized by traditional means and its story was carried by traditional news media and blogs more powerfully than any hash tag could have.  The goal of the flotilla was to call attention to Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and when this blockade is eventually lifted, the flotilla is sure to be cited for its influence.  But where was Twitter?  It seems that Gretta Berlin hasn’t needed it in the way observers of Iran a year ago would have predicted.  Instead, it looks like the Free Gaza flotilla has demonstrated that social networking is more useful for armchair commentary while actual political changes will continue to rely on traditional organizing.  In looking back, would Twitter have brought about a different end to ills like apartheid, will it be considered instrumental in ending the blockade on Gaza, or will it be called on again in Iran?  The world will continue to change and progress as it always has, but social media appears only to be another “town crier”, and not the next “printing press” as many hoped.


A better stick for our carrot by fluffly
February 18, 2009, 12:59 pm
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Secretary of State Clinton (it feels good typing that) said that we may have to revisit our approach to Burma.  Apparently,

“…the path we have taken in imposing sanctions hasn’t influenced the Burmese junta,” [Clinton] said, adding that the route taken by Burma’s neighbors of “reaching out and trying to engage them has not influenced them either.”

So, my question is, how useful of a ‘stick’ are sanctions?  Not to make the argument that sanctions in every instance act the same or are intended to have the same effect on the recieiving country, but the sanctions against Burma have not changed the policies of the junta, the sanctions against Cuba and Iraq only denied the people food or medicine while benefitting the black markets and government officials in on the smuggling, Hamas is still in power in Gaza, and while it is too early to really tell with Iran, they appear not to have retarded their quest for nuclear weapons.  Nor have they helped us conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given us clairvoyance enough to find the rebels’ hidden fortress.

I’m sure that there are examples of sanctions regimes that have been successful, but I just can’t think of them right now (Stanley, I’m looking at you to correct me).  But in light of Clinton’s statement, it is clear that in some instances, sanctions just don’t do much.  Their appeal is strong.  In the face of such terrible goverments, the idea of trading with them and thus helping to continue their existence is a nonstarter.  So what are our options?  Thoughts?

There have been some suggestions, specifically in Gaza, of maintaining the sanctions against the Hamas government, but working with NGOs or other groups and countries to bring aid in directly to the people, thus cutting the government out of the equation, avoiding corruption, and hopefully undercutting them.  In Burma, the ICG has  said that “bans on Burmese garments, agriculture and fishery products and restrictions on tourism should be lifted.”  This would have the benefit of allowing the people to get back to work and hopefully stem a humanitarian crisis.  But how do we balance a desire to punish malicious governments, while seeking to avoid punishing their people?