IDP2013 (VIII): Social Movements

Notes from the 9th Internet, Law and Politics Congress: Big Data: Challenges and Opportunities, organized by the Open University of Catalonia, School of Law and Political Science, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 25-26 June 2013. More notes on this event: idp2013.

Moderator: Rosa Borge. Lecturer, School of Law and Political Science (UOC).

Invited speaker: Techno-politics and 15M. Models, data, hypothesis and analysis of political action in the network society
Javier Toret, Researcher and activist. Author of Tecnopolítica: la potencia de las multitudes conectadas. El sistema red 15M, un nuevo paradigma de la política distribuida.

This research has a different approach from the usual one: there is no theory that aims at being validated by data, but lots of data, an event, that is being analysed to see whether a theory or an explanation can be inferred.

Hacking + activism + netstrike = hacktivism. Technopolitics.

The crisis is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the movement to take place. The narrative and the previous experiences on the net, the evolution of memes (memethics) and campaigns, etc. are very important to set up the movements. In this sense, there is a “migration” of hashtags across several movements. On the other hand, most of the people that participated were already users of social networking sites. And not only social networking sites, but social movements in general: there is a powerful online-offline hybridization of participation.

Technopolitics is not cyberactivism, because it also happens outside of the net; and it is not slacktivism, because there is much more than just uncommitted online politics.

Multilayer approach: the physical layer, the media layer, the technological layer, etc.

Technopolitics is becoming a pattern, and an important one, all over the world’s politics.

Again, there is a high correlation between the online and the offline world, between Facebook groups and local (physical/offline) groups.

A technologically structured contagion took place during the indignados movement. How does this contagion happens? Emotions play a major role, are central in the movement.

Emotions, vocabulary, etc. are really synced during the movement, especially during offline events (and their replica online).

It is important to note the different organizational structures between parties — hierarchic, isolated — and the movement — decentralized, networked.

Spanish Indignados and the evolution of 15M: towards networked para-institutions
Ismael Peña-López, Professor at the School of Law and Political Science of the Open University of Catalonia; Mariluz Congosto, Researcher at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid; Pablo Aragón, Researcher at Barcelona Media Foundation

The study of social mobilization in the age of Big Data
Jorge L Salcedo M, Investigador Grupo Democracia Elecciones y Ciudadanía UAB, Consultor Universitat Oberta de Catalunya; Camilo Cristancho, Investigador Grupo Democracia Elecciones y Ciudadanía, Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona

Central question in social science research: behaviour, communication, information dynamics. And methodological challenges: influence networks, actor attributes and roles, context and case studies.

What are the consequences of social media use on mobilization and diffusion? What are the bridges and commonalities between computer and social sciences?

The aim of the research is finding what is the state of the art of research in the field of mobilization and its relationship with social networking sites. A literature review for the period 2007-2013 was carried on.

Diffusion is based on the adoption of a practice or features through different channels. It depends on the message, the information dynamics, actors and the network structure. Some organizations play key roles in some mobilization processes, and specifically, the resources of these organizations. These resources can also be social capital, linkages and opportunities.

The relationship between actors, indeed, can tell us much about the probability that a movement can go on, can evolve, can grow.

Organizations are usually “sense makers”, they provide good explanations for what is happening in reality, they provide frames, scenarios, diagnosis, identify the main subjects. We know little, though, how the context changes, what are the group dynamics.

Concerning future research, we have to take into account the diffusion processes that involve information dynamics but also practices (tractics, strategies) and cultural norms. On the other hand, are we putting to much hope on Twitter or other social networking sites? We have also to analyze network linkages, formal structures vs. communication dynamics.

9th Internet, Law and Politics Conference (2013)

Evgeny Morozov: How to control new digital intermediaries?

Notes from the Breakfast with Evgeny Morozov, organized by the Consulate General of the United States Barcelona and held at the Consulate in Barcelona, Spain, in December 5, 2012.

Evgeny Morozov is visiting Barcelona to promote the Spanish translation of The Net Delusion. The Dark Side of Internet Freedom and to introduce his upcoming book To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism. The US Consulate in Barcelona offered a breakfast with the press and scholars which I happily attended.

The event began with a short keynote by Evgeny Morozov followed by a brief discussion with the attendants.

Evgeny Morozov: How to control new digital intermediaries?

The story that is pictured in The Net Delusion. The Dark Side of Internet Freedom begins in 2006 and the use that advocacy organizations do of social networking sites. Despite some minor effects, it is due acknowledging that online work had not much of an impact. The power was using the same tools of activists to counter-fight protests and protesters. And, indeed, social networking sites (SNS) were being used to haunt, find and punish activists in a sort of a cat & mouse game.

With this side-effect in mind, it is quite surprising that so many people in the “West” are so enthusiastic about ICTs and SNS in particular for advocacy or dissidence if it does not seem to be working. Maybe, people are too confident on the power of media. But he Internet works differently from the Fourth Estate. More access to information, more tools to diffuse a message should work, as it did in the past. But it does not.

Besides, people on the Internet are not engaging, but increasingly getting distracted. How can the online be linked with the offline? How can the online be linked to the on-the-ground activism and protesting? Because the thing is that online protests or demonstrations are not harmful, while offline are. Non-representative or extra-institutional politics simply do not work.

With the Internet one can circumvent political parties, but who cares? How can one translate that into impact? It is just escaping politics. People should move into politics, now being smarter, more resilient, instead of escaping from them.

All the aforementioned especially applies to Eastern regions. What would happen if the Internet could be applied to solving problems in western liberal democracies?

The problem is that new intermediaries know too much about someone that they can affect or tamper one’s process of getting informed, of deliberating, engaging, etc. (e.g. Google Now). Google builds the present almost anywhere (e.g. Google Glass). What Silicon Valley is trying to fix that is actually a feature and not a bug. Silicon Valley is fixing a problem or is developing a solution looking for a problem?


Albert Montagut: Isn’t there a need for new intermediaries? Evgeny Morozov: Predictive policing can work with big data and the appropriate algorithm. But how is this algorithm working or being designed? We do not know. Thus, we need access to code. We need to democratize the process, introducing accountability in the design without hampering private interests. And with the Internet of Things, it will not any more be about the Internet, but about the real world. Offline and online does not apply any more.

Jorge Salcedo: What about the economies of network? What about the change of values (e.g. privacy) that is taking place? Evgeny Morozov: Let us take the example of self-tracking and the quantified-self. There are reasons to use these technologies for personal usage but, at the same time, there can be interests in e.g. car or health insurance companies to access the collected data and be able to calculate probabilities on accidents or diseases. Then, we find there are incentives so that people forget about privacy. Indeed, there are times where the user cannot avoid doing “bad” things, e.g. eating junk food because you cannot afford better food. Should these people be penalized twice, for being poor and for eating what they can afford to eat? The problem with most these things is that one is not free to opt out, so people end up into adverse decisions or moral hazard.

Josep Ibáñez: The lack of awareness of people, can we include that in education? On the other hand, Silicon Valley goes faster than governments, boosted by the smell of profit. How can we gain that power back? Evgeny Morozov: To educate we need a coherent position on some topics, which we do not have. We need to make aware the consequences of technology use during use itself. We must not hide the consequences of the use of technology.

Luis Ángel Fernández Hermana: The Internet is not one single thing, but several things together, and still evolving. We have to learn to operate in a new and evolving territory that is the Internet. Can this be done or the sequences of transitions are impossible to track/learn? Can we create “knowledge networks” that allow people to act online and offline too? Evgeny Morozov: The “Internet” as an entity I believe it not. One thing is the physical network, and another one is the different “Internets” that we use as concepts to explain different things. Many things are beyond the mere “Internet” (e.g. 3D printing) but are systematically attached to this catch-all concept. We have to go beyond this stage of believing that “everything” is the “Internet” and that there is an online world in opposition to the offline world.

Ismael Peña-López: I think there is great consensus that the Internet has brought empowerment to the citizenry. But maybe we forgot a little bit about governance. Indeed, what the 15M Spanish Indignados movement seemed to show was that we were really behind in terms of governance, that the globalization and ICTs had put it up and away from the common citizen. In a sense, we could speak of a trade-off between empowerment and governance the more digital is a society. How can we balance this? How can we regain access to governance with the tools of empowerment? Evgeny Morozov: this is “the” question: how to improve governance with ICTs. But it is different to overarch technology from an improved government because technology works very different and one cannot regulate everything. We have to get empirical, not “macro-theoretical”.