Hideto Akasu

I found this essay, Social Movements and Governments in the Digital Age: Evaluating a Complex Landscape, on the most comprehensive scholarly database called Academic Search Complete.

In the essay, the author, Zeynep Tufekci, argues how the innovation of social media of nowadays has transformed the way both dissidents/activists and governments get themselves involved in social movements. The impact of social media on social movements is so complex that one cannot simply argue it is either beneficial or harmful. To show the complexity of social movements in this digital age, the author clarifies the duality of social media that its strengths inevitably cause its weaknesses for protesters in promoting social movements against governments. By taking examples of Turkey and Egypt, where the use of social media has taken a huge role in the movements, the author shows the readers the relationship between media and democracy in 21st century.

Social media has helped to empower protesters in mainly three fields: public attention, evading censorship, and coordination or logistics. With respect to public attention, the emergence of social media has transformed the public sphere itself. In some countries such as Turkey, the government took control over the mass media by pressuring them politically and financially. Gatekeeping all the information, those governments could keep people’s attention away from negative news about government’s policies. Under such an environment, people hardly can even notice what is really happening in their countries. However, social media, as an independent media entity, enable citizens to engage in journalism activities with much less restriction from governmental authorities. In the case of the protests in Turkey, one journalist, Akinan, used social network service to spread the reality of protests that media do not broadcast in any ways, and its news spread rapidly via, again, social network services. As this example shows, social media change the public sphere from narrowly restricted information space to open access for everyone. Especially in those countries where the governments have controlled the media in a strict sense, the impact of this transition brought by social media is huge to an extent that now people can get informal but worthy information mutually.

Governments, on the other hand, of course, do not just let those new technologies deprive them of a privilege of controlling the mass media: “digital infrastructure appeared to empower the initial phase…however, over the mid- to long-term governments learned to respond accordingly” (6). As the public sphere itself changes, governments change their strategies to pull back information led by activists via social media under their control. The author states their dealing with this new age:

Many governments have recognized that they cannot fully conquer social media as an alternative source of news and public opinion formation. Governments can try to divide, polarize, and counter its influence by both joining it, with their own supporters or employees, or by beating it, via demonization and/or bans, which do not completely block motivated citizens but help keep government supporters from using and trusting it. (7)

Governments aim at not eradicating all the information, but getting over the control of the mass media again. That is why they do not just simply illegalize all the activities relating to social media (which is actually questionable if governments could totally restrain all the social media activities even if they tried). Here, we can see that this conflicting structure between government and people. Social media becomes a means through which citizens get relatively liberal access to those information which governments might not want people to see for authoritative reasons. Despite its empowering aspects, social media also has some inherent weaknesses, which are not favorable for protesters to keep their movements going.

Social media provide us technologies that can show us the whole new world where, unlike before the emergence of social media, a classical power balance between governments and activists in terms of media has changed a lot. One of the main reasons why social media is so innovative is its connectivity among so many people who barely know each other to gather and communicate at once very easily and quickly. It favors social movements in two ways that 1) it makes a lot easier to organize those movements and that 2) each participant unites as a whole even without any leader figures, which represent their concept of democracy. However, these two characteristics also represent social media’s weaknesses. Since it is very easy now to organize a social movement via social media, protesters can proceed their plans without having some essential procedures that any organizations have to go through. The author points out that “Digital infrastructure helps undertake functions that would have otherwise required more formal and long-term organizing which, almost as a side effect, help build organizational capacity to respond to long-term movement requirements” (12). This quote shows that the instant form thanks to social media renders social movement lack of strong bond that can be only attainable for protesters by working together in person and spending time so much together.

The other weakness comes from its leaderless-ness. In the name of democracy, protesters tend to idealize an organization without hierarchy unlike governments. For them, equality among participants is prioritized in protesting governments. However, their ideal can be their weakness when it comes to be some representative of movements becoming in need: “the same technological tools that make it possible to carry out beneficial acts of decentralization also allows protesters to decentralize to an ad hoc system and run their protests—and when applicable, their protest camps—without dealing with the inevitable tensions around deliberation at scale, delegation of representation, and negotiation with authorities” (13). Though leaderless-ness itself is not totally a bad thing, but as long as a social movement has to have a certain form of distinct organization in it, this problem must be considered.

Having shown the complexity of social movements of this digital age, the author concludes the on-going stories of the relationship between social movements and social media in our world. In promoting democracy in such a digital society, social media surely becomes its center along with involving all the citizens and governments to face the reality.

As the author examines in the essay, a democratic society always somehow has this conflicting structure between people and a government. As the word “democracy” means power to the people, the form of politics should take a system in which a government serves the people. Sadly, what we see in this present day is governments’ strict policy that does not seem to really guarantee the freedom of expression to media. As the case of Aaron Swartz indicates, governments are so excessively conservative that they won’t let one change the social reality if one violates the law, under which people cannot possibly receive certain human rights they deserve to get in a democratic society.

What Aaron was striving for was equality among the people in terms of access to the information, which only few limited populations have access while most of the people do not. After all a social movement to which he contributed so much for its success won. As the author of the essay says, however, as soon as protesters utilize the power of social media, the governments also try to incorporate the same tools to control media. In the essay, the author also points out one of the potential weaknesses of social media is its leaderless-ness in social movements. But when we think about how a democratic government should function as an authority in a citizen-based society, the government should really become the representative of social movements. At present, governments almost react to any social movements utilizing social media as if those movements were new kinds of threatening to them. Since social media has broadened the opportunity and possibility for many people to participate in any social movements either actively or passively (it does not really matter because what matters is the outcome of movements), people tend to pay more attention to politics and social problems. What social media offers is the public sphere where people can constructively discuss those issues. As Aaron always said, “to make a better world,” governments need to change their ways of intervening the social reality and people. Undoubtedly, in this digital age, people have more power than ever before in a sense they have access to the information. Therefore, in order to make the true democracy happen, both governments and people need to cooperate and consider how we can utilize this new media in making a better society.

Nobuyuki Furuta

In Contesting Racism: Democratic Citizenship, Human Rights, and Antiracist Politics in Argentina (This article is found in JSTOR), a professor of sociology at University at Albany, Barbara Sutton states, “In Argentina, racism is a relatively hidden but entrenched social problem that has undermined democratic citizenship and the possibility of social justice” (Sutton 106). The concept of racism in Argentina is not as explicitly spread out as that in the United States, but it certainly affects social norms and structures. The racism in Argentina has been invisibly promoted through media, which can easily create false images for some particular races and form public opinions. Sutton first explains the historical background of racism in Argentina and the relation between class and race. Based on the history, she develops her opinion that the racism has been fostered through policies and practices. She also claims that this biased view is shaped by making use of websites and mass media such as news programs and newspaper. After the termination of dictatorship in Argentina and the transition to democracy, however, civil-society groups and government institutions began antiracist movements. The government actively attempted to incorporate international conventions as local legislation in order to fight against racism. She concludes that it is essential for citizens to vigorously take actions to challenge racism. She insists that media can regulate the knowledge of citizens and have power to shake not only society but also individuals because it can easily influence the whole society and form public opinions. Moreover, she implies that equality of human rights can be achieved only under democratic society, since the end of the dictatorship in Argentina brought the trigger of anti-discrimination movements, which aimed to gain equality among every single individual.

Sutton explains that the racism in Argentina originates from the history. In the nineteenth century, the government tried to make Argentina “more economically powerful, white, and civilized” by encouraging the massive immigration of Europeans and annihilating indigenous and afro-descendent people (Sutton 107). These unjust policies let people associate civilization with white and resulted in depriving non-white people of their citizenship. As the number of non-white people decreased, white people had more social influence. The racism also did its work to generate class inequality, since white people had power and were recognized as elites. On the contrary, people with mestizo or indigenous features were usually put in the poor and the working class. This class and racial inequality was more conspicuous in big cities. For example, people living in rural areas immigrated to Buenos Aires, and mestizo or indigenous people were frequently scorned and bullied there. These history and national policies gradually formed racism in Argentina, and it has still affected their daily lives even now.

The racism in Argentina, which was formed through its long history, has been promoted through concrete policies and practices, such as education and media. Sutton examines the coverage of issues about racism in Argentine newspaper articles. She concludes that these media are “more likely to talk about racism when there was a willful agent (e.g., graffiti painting) or interpersonal interaction (e.g., physical aggression) than to report cases of institutionalized racism and frame them as such” (Sutton 111). By regulating the contents of reports, media in Argentina succeeded in avoiding the attribution of the racism to the government institutions. The citizens have no choice but to believe these broadcast, and this is how media form public opinions toward racism in Argentina. She raises an example of such reports by picking up an article that states the factors of the malnourishment of indigenous people lie in their failure to assess the illness that they suffer. To refute this report, she insists, “The cultural explanation of indigenous malnourishment depoliticizes the problem and skirts the question why indigenous children have little access to food in the first place” (Sutton 111). There should be some reasons indigenous people are likely to be poor. The economic gap between races in Argentina has been created through institutional racism.

In addition to the fact that Argentine media usually attempt to avoid mentioning the political racism, the media also cause the loss of the self-identities in Argentine. Sutton considers that the media imposed people on wrong categories. For instance, Sutton analyzes, “People with indigenous or mestizo ancestry have often been placed in the ‘black’ category” (Sutton 112). In the context of Argentine races, “black” does not necessarily mean that a complexion is black, but implies that the black people are non-white, who are regarded as those in the lower class. Since race is used more as derogatory words than as positive self-identification, some Argentine people lost their ways to identify themselves.

Even though the racism in Argentina was shaped through history and spread out by media, some civilian groups and institutions started taking actions to confront discriminations after the political power moved from dictatorship to democracy. Because of the actions taken by human rights organizations, the ideas of human rights became more familiar, and people came to be increasingly aware of racism. Sutton explains that, since these movements involved international conventions on discriminations, the government institutions deepened their understanding of discriminations and adopted those international conventions as local legislation (Sutton 116). Moreover, international summits and conferences gained attention from Argentine activists, and they indirectly strengthened democratic movements. She concludes that integrating foreign frameworks and calling for actions are crucial to spread awareness and to confront racism in Argentina.

As Sutton argues in her work, in Argentina, media can easily manipulate citizens and move the whole society, since they help form public opinions by regulating the contents that are broadcast. One example of a website is raised in her paper. The website explains the proportion of races with data and states that each race is accounted for what percent of the total population. These data appear to be pretty convincing. However, these data are suspicious too because the definitions and categories of each race are unclear. Even though what the website shows might not be true, the visitors of the website would believe these data without doubt, and they would shape the ideas of racial proportions in Argentina. Similar to the case of the website, media can also exaggerate and beautify the contents to be broadcast. For instance, one Argentine newspaper emphasized that the conquerors did not intend to eliminate the culture of the indigenous people, and therefore, that was not genocide (Sutton 111). Unless people are critical enough to analyze what is broadcast and conveyed through media, they merely believe what they just saw, and it would strongly affect his opinions.

Besides the power of media over society, Sutton also implies that democracy enables citizens to fight against racism and to achieve equality among every single person. During the military dictatorship in Argentina, people were tortured or executed for unjust reasons. Those fear for unfair punishments discouraged people from taking actions to obtain equality. Even if people were under restrictions and were not allowed to take actions and make speeches, there would be no way to achieve equality, since the movements of citizens are necessary to spread out the voices to seek equality. After the end of the dictatorship and the beginning of the democratic society in Argentina, people were finally able to start activities for their human rights. The transition to the democracy is functioned as the trigger of anti-discrimination movements, which aim to procure equality within any races.

Sutton explains that racism in Argentina originates from its historical backgrounds, such as immigration of Europeans and decimation of indigenous people. The increasing number of white people imparted social power to them, and it created racial differences. The racism was encouraged through media by focusing on interpersonal racial incidents and avoiding the broadcast of institutionalized racism. Even though racism was spread out through media, some activists stood up and began antiracist movements after the transition to democracy. Media hold such horrifying power that they can easily manipulate citizens by regulating the contents. In addition to the power of media, the case of Argentina implies that democratic society is required to call for actions and realize equality of all citizens. Without media, the concept of racism might be less familiar to citizens in Argentina. The case of Argentina left lessons that it is important for citizens to have power to think and analyze critically in order to avoid the deception by media.

Sin Min Chew

The essay, Mass Media’s Influence on the Transformation of the Mexican Political Regime, by Gabriela Palavicini argues that the mass media in Mexico has evolved to become a political player and was thus crucial in producing a political regime change. The mass media also wields power in terms of the political developments that it can create and shape. Their current role evolved from and is built upon their original role as a provider of information about politics and its developments to the public. These days, political columnists provide opinions and reviews on the political process and decisions made by the government. This not only informs citizens, but shapes their outlook on the performance of their government and its credibility and legitimacy. A judge of the political practice, the mass media makes power legitimatization one of its primary actions. It can strengthen or weaken the democratic regime. It wields a double-edged sword that can potentially bend the people and politicians to its will.

It was known that communication is necessary to retain political power and crucial to democracy as well. Thus, politicians embraced and employed the use of mass media to reach out to the populace. Results of a questionnaire conducted on the Mexican population to test the theory that news sources can induce political change showed that “people think that television and the press are judges of political behavior because they are able to manipulate information and take sides when they communicate events; they are considered as “partial.” Mexicans see the mass media as a political player, in the sense that they perceive mass media as the link between people and government. To be constantly informed is part of active citizenry. Given access to what is happening with political elites, the people thus have the power to define the political image. Yet others believe that the media can influence people because of their ignorance and “lack of culture” and because the media constitutes the only parameter that society has. People are forced to believe what the media shows and to consider its point of view because the media is closer to politics and politicians than society is. All that they are shown comes from media sources. This opinion reinforces the idea of a relationship between mass media’s influence and the educational level of the people. A highly educated population is not able to be easily influenced when they are aware and critical of the information presented to them.

As mass media was given a greater role in society, it slowly gained influence and currently has greater influence on politics than politicians do, and in various situations, is able to take charge of the unfolding of events. It used to be that the political party legitimized power and the elites’ decisions. Now, mass media has obtained that power, influencing decision-making by deciding when and what information the people receive. The mass media is the first filter and the citizens are the second one. A political candidate with no media coverage has little possibility of being voted into a public position. Media makes politics, influencing people’s behavior, making judgments, and informing in different ways. It is important to govern with the mass media and not without or against it. Influencing citizens’ point of view about different events, the media has the power to lead them to lose confidence in political players, which results in a weaker democratic regime. The media also judges politicians’ actions, critiquing leaders under democratic codes and confusing the judgment with free speech. Government regulation on media space during elections, giving the same opportunities to all political parties by awarding them the same amount of time to present proposals during a political campaign then reinforces the democratic process.

The paper concludes with a new hypothesis that “the more the media becomes objective, timely, and truthful, the more important the place it holds beyond the one it has achieved on the political scene, both in determining collective decisions and in undermining political players.” With the loss of confidence in politicians, elites and political institutions a gap is growing between them and the general population and the mass media is well-poised to occupy that space. With this power, however, comes responsibility, and the media should adopt its responsibility as a communicator to be more objective and communicative, not allowing its interests to prevail over ethics and values. Consolidating the democratic regime in Mexico requires all three players (mass media, government and the people) to reinforce their confidence in each other. Ultimately, the media is not strong enough to achieve the democratization process or to consolidate it. However, it can develop an active citizenship with a strong civil society that should be the one to demand and carry out the strict application of democratic principles and in the medium term, consolidate the regime.

The new power of the media was also witnessed in the three films we watched in class on Venezuela and Chile. In Venezuela, after the legitimate government regained control of the presidential palace, it was crucial that the media stepped in to broadcast this information to the public and re-establish the primacy of the Constitution over Venezuelan politics with the people’s acknowledgment. The power dynamic could be seen as the people who had gathered outside the presidential palace first held the power, but that was later handed over to the presidential guards as they held the key to successfully regaining the presidential palace. The return of the Chavez’s government signified another power transfer and the media briefly held power too as they needed television coverage to consolidate their power. Additionally, the people were first mobilized because they were politically active citizens, aware and kept engaged in Venezuelan politics through Chavez’s active use of mass media, including his radio talk shows. In the film on Chile too, the political war between the Yes and the No faction was played out on television for the public to witness. Aaron Swartz was able to prevent SOPA, an Internet censorship bill, from being passed by launching an online campaign that gained the support of major websites who participated in the SOPA black out. The media holds great influence today and even greater potential to be harnessed for great positive developments in society. It is a tool that needs to be governed by ethics to actually benefit the people.

Mass media can be used to strengthen the democratic culture in everyday life, which is an essential complement to democratic institutions and the creation of true democracy throughout the world. It cannot happen without the participation of the people, who are often passively accepting information presented to them and the world as it is. The media platform allows for ordinary people to respond and engage in developments that occur anywhere in the world, as long as they have an online presence. Just like Aaron Swartz has shown, the ability to write code and program also presents great power to induce change and subvert existing red tape and restrictive bureaucratic systems. The world stands at a time of great change, especially by the most ordinary of people, as long as they are enlightened to their true basic and unalienable rights and understand that we can pursue these rights. I think mass media today is a great revealer of the true strength of the people.

Benjamin discussion questions

1) What is the question (or questions) that Benjamin attempts to answer in his essay?

2) What are some of the assumptions that Benjamin makes about the “age of mechanical reproduction”?

3) What are some of the disciplinary methodologies that Benjamin calls upon in his essay? Describe his approach; cite examples (including page numbers).

4) If you would have to identify the principal mode of inquiry that Benjamin employs in this essay which one would it be: axiomatic, philosophic, observational/scientific, historical, interpretive/social scientific, imaginative expressive? What are some of the intellectual traditions he cites in this essay?

5) What evidence does Benjamin present to support his argument?

6) Do you think Benjamin’s critique of the new age of mechanical reproduction can be brought to bear upon the current so-called “digital age”?

Deep Listening Exercise 2


Exercise adapted from Pauline Oliveros’ Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice

The Exercise

Sit either on the floor or in a chair.

If on the floor, use a cushion to raise the sitz bones.

If sitting in a chair, feet are flat on the floor

The legs should be crossed either in full lotus position, or tucked in close to the body with the knees relaxed downward to the floor.

Posture is relaxed upper body, chin tucked in slightly, balanced on the ‘sitz’ bones and knees.

Palms rest on the thighs, or palms folded close to the belly.

Eyes are relaxed with the lids half or fully closed.

At the sound of a bell or gong listen inclusively for the interplay of sounds in the whole space/time continuum. Include the sounds of your own thoughts. Can you imagine that you are at the center of the whole?

Use this mantra to aid your listening:
With each breath I return to the whole of the space/time continuum.

If a sound takes your attention to a focus, then follow the sound all the way to the end as you return to the whole of the space/time continuum.

At the sound of the bell prepare to review your experience and describe it in your journal [blog].