Technopolitics and the 15M. The power of connected crowds. Network system #15M. A new paradigm for distributed politics

Notes from the Digital culture, networks and distributed politics in the age of the Internet. From the Global Spring to the Net Democracy, organized by the Communication and Civil Society programme of the IN3 in Barcelona, Spain, in October 24-25, 2012. More notes on this event: comsc.

Round table: Technopolitics and the 15M. The power of connected crowds. Network system #15M. A new paradigm for distributed politics
Coordinates: Javier Toret

Gestation of the 15M, devices and augmented events, network system, emergence and self-organization. Evolution of the network system.
Javier Toret, Óscar Marín, Alberto Lumbreras, Pablo Aragón, Juan Linares y Miguel Aguilera.  Grupo @datanalysis15M (15Mdata)

Javier Toret: methodological reflections

It is important to stress the different approach of this research: instead of an ex-ante design and hypotheses, the huge amount of data allow for a reverse conception: see what are the patterns that arise and, after them, infer the hypotheses.

The 15M means that a technological and social critical mass takes the street: a long history of movements, unrests and protests finally crystallize as a major protest and camps all over Spain. The profile, though, is not the usual profile of a social movement, but of a network movement: there are several sub-movements in action, several hashtags and memes, several proposals, etc.

A working hypothesis is that as the network movement grows, the interest and participation in “real” politics also grows. Technopolitics is neither slacktivism nor cyberactivism: the goal is real politics and “real life”. Technopolitics is a tactical and strategic use of digital tools and collective identities. The aim of technopolitics is to organize, communicate and act.

Technopolitics have a certain sense of forecasting: they anticipate what is going to happen, or what is about to happen, and help it in finally making it happen, catalysing the change. Technolpolitics drive the flow of the collective action.

Technopolitics, though, heavily rely on technology, in two ways: (1) people intensively use technology to inform and be informed, to coordinate and organize, but also (2) online participation counts as 100% participation, it is not a second best but simply another channel for participation and engagement. Technopolitics normalizes the use of technology.

Another working hypothesis is that the Arab Spring was a reference for the 15M, and the demonstrations on Tahrir Square were key for AcampadaSol (the camps initially in Madrid Puerta del Sol square and after in the rest of Spanish squares).

Alberto Lumbreras: tools

Analysis is done by following the movements of hashtagsin Twitter, including the ‘flocks’ or ‘swarms’ of Twitter users. And thus be able to tell the political relationship between hashtags, users, etc.

To analyse flocks one can either follow the hashtag in real time or recovering data (e.g. from Topsy), analyse what users are following or tweeting two different (but related) hashtags, and then analyze them with a social network analysis software (e.g. Gephi).

This flock analysis allows testing (1) whether the 15M was the product of prior citizen movements in Spain and (2) whether it had any relationship with the Arab Spring. For instance, 31% of the users that tweeted under #spanishrevolution had already twitted #nolesvotes (the movement against bipartidism in Spain). And what also happened is that #spanishrevolution brought back to life #nolesvotes [disclaimer: data are not still very accurate].

Issues: Topsy provides a truncated and thus biased sample of the tweets; we do not know how big has a flock to be to e considered as the generator/influencer of a movement.

Javier Toret: on the precedents of the 15M – Democracia Real Ya – Toma la Calle

Democracia Real Ya was able to activate and engage many existing platforms and groups that had either been very active in citizen protests/demands or were planning to be or wanted to but did not know how (e.g. how to create a critical mass and be relevant).

15M was active in 59 cities through 59 local groups: the explosion of the #15 as a big event/movement turned itself into a massive creation of local camps and local groups connected at a national level, but acting somewhat individually/locally. The affective commotion fostered a distributed and self-organized movement; and the viral propagation was key for the local nodes to be able to be effective.

But, what happened between the 15M until the 22M so that the phenomenon boosted the way it did?

The growth of profiles follows a pattern of simple and logical self-organization fostered by technology. Attention is synced around some very specific issues (e.g. nobody searches “democracy” in Google in Spain… until May 2011, when it peaks!). The 15M can be understood as an event, an augmented event, interconnected and that affects people whether they are present in the physical space or not.

The 15M fosters a cognitive diet: instant messaging, blogging, usage of social networking sites, etc. are intensively used in search of information and communication channels, in search of knowing, in search of understanding.

It is important to note the importance of the subjective/emotional factor of the 15M. The 15M enters the emotions of people and this is shown by what people tweeted those days. There is a need for an emotional analysis of the 15M as it will contribute to explain how it worked and spread.

Óscar Marín: emotions in Twitter

To be able to analyze emotions in Twitter some questions have to be made in order to establish an ontology: what are the predominant emotions in the 15M, what is the emotional charge, what is the relationship between the emotional charge and virality. After these questions, a list of expressions is created that identifies emotions, a grammar is used to detect negations, and a corpus of twitts is tagged manually so that the analysis can be iterated.

What data show is that there is more emotional virality (vs. non-emotional virality) when people are physically together. Or, in other words, the virality of emotional tweets is not unconditionally superior to non-emotional virality, but it depends on people being physically together. We can check this for instance by seeing that emotional charge is much bigger around May 15th 2011 (previous day and a few following days) than on any other date in the time-span of the movement.

Physical events, and the emotions of “empowerment” and “indignation” are they keys to understand the emotional factor in the 15M movement.

Related to emotions, some questions can be also put about the vocabulary: does it evolve, does it have anything to do with virality, what is the frequency (temperature) of a given term, is the vocabulary used coherent, etc.

Data show that, initially, terms rotate with certain speed and that they are weakly related one with each other (low cohesion). As time advances, the vocabulary has much more cohesion, becomes more restricted (less words) and more stable (remain longer in time): the message becomes clearer and stronger. Last, as the core event (camps) fades away, so does the vocabulary, that again has lower cohesion and higher rotation.

Discussion

Q: It would be in interesting outcome of emotional and vocabulary analysis the finding of outliers.

[the session goes on in a second part, which I cannot attend :( ]

Digital culture, networks and distributed politics in the age of the Internet (2012)

Communication and Civil Society (II). Politics in the Internet age (II)

Notes from the Civil Society and Politics transformation in the Internet Age, organized by the Communication and Civil Society seminar of the IN3 in in Barcelona, Spain, in October 26-27, 2011. More notes on this event: comsc.

Panel: Politics in the Internet age (II)
Arnau Monterde (chair), Marta G. Franco (Acampada Sol participant), Javier Toret (Democracia Real Ya Barcelona participant), Mayo Fuster (Berkman center for Internet & Society)

Arnau Monterde

The different movements that have been born on the Internet (especially) during 2011 have many things in common, and not only about the form, but also in what are their goals, their purposes, the reasons and causes behind their protests, etc.

On the other hand, forms also matter. There is, beyond the organization of the protests, a sort of metaorganization linking and binding together the sprawl of local movements at a global level, thus contributing in the emergence of a global movement and its organization.

The globalization of the movement, or the collectivization of the movement, have also meant that despair due to lack of a clear horizon has turned out into hope due to the openness of the movement itself.

Javier Toret

Technopolitics and the 15M: flow, power, hack, translate, sensibility.

Nowadays, communication and organization are increasingly tied together: most communications actually invite people to engage in a specific action, and do not only give a piece of information or news to a passive receiver.

Our literacies are determined by new technologies that require new literacies. Indeed, these new literacies determine our habits, the way we interact, the way we consume… the way we live.

In this framework, how were the 15m protests in Spain organized?

In February 2011, a group of people meets on Face book and creates a platform to coordinate their actions and to call the citizenry to action. The reaction of people fed back the project and, in many senses, helped in defining what was acceptable in a society and what was bearable (or unbearable, as a matter of fact). The definition of what was unbearable became the actual message to spread and driver for further mobilizations.

Especially, the first big success was building a communicative ball that succeeded in going through the communication wall of mass media.

The movement took the plazas partly because there was an actual list of social demands, but more importantly because it succeeded in creating a collective frame of mind about specific issues and its broad context.

There was a collective building of a Twitter strategy, where many different Twitter users swarmed together to globally broadcast a few, direct, clear messages and a huge debate around them. The openness and simplicity of the process (Twitter + camp) helped the movement to be replicated all around the world. And the fact that most information could be geolocalized also contributed in making the different local initiatives be part of a global movement.

An interesting outcome of the movements has been the reflection about the process of organization and the proliferation of free software tools to empower and boost the optimization of such processes and its cheap and fast replication.

Marta G. Franco

Acampada Sol started as a way to reflect together and settle things down after the demonstration of 15m. The idea behind the acampada was not to stay or not, but to stay together and try to overcome everyone’s fears.

This sense of collective spreads beyond the geographical bounds of the acampadas, as they begin to link and talk one to another one, share fears, ideas, doubts, feelings.

The challenge was how to have a single voice without centralizing the thousand of voices of the movement. That became particularly evident when it came to registering the Internet domain(s) where to publish a website. In the end, there were as many domains/pages as camps or initiatives that joined the movement implicitly.

Another challenge was how to put together the online and offline worlds, each one with their one procedures and processes and ways of acting. A certain degree of success came whenever it was possible to take the best of both worlds, but that was not always an easy thing to do.

In general, mass media missed the way the Indignants were organized, what they were claiming, etc. In fact, most of them ended up taking Acampada Sol (the Madrid Camp of the Indignants) as their unique source of news and information, thus forgetting that Acampada Sol did not represent anyone (any other acampada) but themselves. On the other hand, though, many journalists would be more confident reporting from the sources of user generated media rather than form “official” communicates, even citing verbatim non-official declaration by particular individuals taking part in the protests. Twitter was used to hack the mass media system.

Alternative tools, like the social networking site N-1, were used to stand free from the potential control of third parties, in a sort of techno-political strategies of activism.

Mayo Fuster

Most of social movements are thought as ways to challenge the political agenda and the conventional political organization. Another dimension is challenging the established productive model and the cultural codes.

Besides the usual ways to manage the resources by either the State or the market, a third way is a model of management and provision of resources by the civil society: the commons.

The origin of the new digital commons can be tracked back until the 1950s with the hacker culture and the hippy contraculture, the free software ideology and communities, the Creative Commons, etc. The logic of the commons is opposite to the corporate logic, the former one based on openness, freedom and autonomy. In this sense, the system becomes an open one with a governance that enables participation. The conflict between both logics is the reason behind the free culture (and knowledge) movement.

If we link the 15M movement with the free culture movement, it is easy to find out that beyond the specific demands, there is a very important — arguably the most important one — goal that aims at changing the productive model, and it is a goal that goes implicit in the way the protests and the organization if performed: freely, openly, heavily relying on the idea of the public commons.

Some examples of these are Lawrence Lessig’s move from Creative Commons to Change Congress, or, in the case of Spain, the move from the campaign against the “Ley Sinde” to the “No les votes” campaign. In both cases, especially the latter, the free culture movement merges itself with the Indignants movement. There is somewhat the acknowledgement that there will be no “free culture” unless the whole system is transformed, thus why the change of target from culture itself (the “what”) to the political institutions (the “why”).

It is important to note that this change of the system is non-partisan, and being non-partisan is an explicit tactic so that the movement can be comprehensive and inclusive.

Discussion

Òscar Mateos: in a certain way, the 15M movements have witnessed the coexistence of the traditional civic movements with a more post-modern ones. How has this happened or been made possible? Toret: Democracia Real Ya was more a platform than an institution, and this implied that as there was no central message to be imposed over the members, anyone felt free to contribute with their own voice, either at the individual level or organized in traditional movements. Notwithstanding, there have been clashes between a more chaotic or networked way of working and the vertical and traditional ways to organize civil movements. Franco: the crisis of media and political parties — and their dependence from ideological and economic lobbies — definitely helped the movement to be something plural, a window open to fresh and unfiltered information, which was something that every citizen, despite their origin (traditional or post-modern) was in very much need of.

Gala Pin: how can the digital divide be overcome so that no people is left behind? Toret: the digital divide is addressed on a peer-to-peer basis. Many workshops and training sessions are being organized so that everyone catches up with the state-of-the art skills and technologies.

Q: how was the offline linked with he online? Toret: there was continuous feedback between both worlds. Many documents were printed or distributed in many analogue ways, but also some creations in paper or in speech were digitized (photos, footage, etc.) and spread through social networking sites.

Gala Pin: how can we focus, how can be optimize the energies poured into the movement so that they are more efficient (how can be participation optimized)? Franco: there is an ongoing challenge on how to be able to map, link and somehow organize the zillion platforms where the conversation takes place. Castells: maybe a solution could be to get in touch with research centres that are specialized in just that, so that synergies can be built between activists and people willing to do research on activism.

More information

Civil Society and Politics transformation in the Internet Age (2011)