Technical Assistance: The Growing Use of Liberation Technology in the Autocratic World

This post was written by a student in the Stanford’s Winter 2011 Networked Rhetoric class; it was designed to focus in on a particular source or research experience related to his/her project on social media and digital culture .  See a more detailed overview of this assignment.

Cell phones promote democracy. It’s not a Verizon Wireless slogan, it’s the truth. Weird, right?

Not exactly. Cell phones are the most recent, cheap, and mobile device to host the wide variety of apps and social networks people mindlessly use daily. So what’s so special about that? A lot actually. Twitter, Facebook, and blogging are creating “super-empowered individuals” and primarily constitute what is known as “liberation technology.” The nature of these sites (open access, anyone can post anything) prompted democracy expert Larry Diamond to label blogs as “the most intrinsically democratic form of media ever established.”These sites are instrumental in coordinating protests and spreading messsages to large amounts of people, all with surprising success. Revolutions and dictatorships born in violence are falling because ubiqitous technologies like cell phones and computers have magnified the opportunities for social change. I’ll tweet to that.

Larry Diamond’s book “The Spirit of Democracy” has been extraordinarily helpful in my research. As a guide to establishing democracy all over the world, Mr. Diamond lays out solutions to ridding autocracy and establishing the institutions needed to promote global liberalization efforts. Mr. Diamond’s book details in depth the recent successes of liberation technology, on a scope even I had not assumed. Liberation tech is responsible for the overthrow of Phillippine dictator Joseph Estrada, mobilization of hundreds of thousands of protesters in Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution, and many other similar events. Liberation technology has improved public accountability in many regimes, most notably China. Chinese authorities recently backed down on a plan to build a hazardous chemical plant after thousands of text messages generated massive public outcry. Youtube, a site synonymous with mindless videos meant to briefly entertain the wandering minds of youths, has been extremely effective promoting democracy. Many of the videos released during Iranian electoral protests brought widespread condemnation of the Iranian regime alongside solidarity with the protesters. Even in North Korea liberation technology is making headways. Despite the government’s attempts to prohibit cell phone use, the technology is still making its way to citizens. With one call or text, North Koreans have access to the outside world and information critical of their “Dear Leader.”

So what’s so special about this new string of technology? Hopefully, with an interview with Professor Diamond and a little more research, I’ll be able to conclusively tell you.

This entry was posted in CCR exchange: Student Research, Networked Rhetoric: Section 1, Stanford Networked Rhetorics class. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Technical Assistance: The Growing Use of Liberation Technology in the Autocratic World

  1. Pingback: Researching Networked Culture | The Cross-Cultural Rhetoric Blog

  2. Kyle Vermeer says:

    Hey Nate,

    It looks like this source is exactly what you were looking for and is going to be a huge player in your project. I’m excited that you are going to be able to get an interview with author, that should really help you get the most out of that source. This should be great!

    I would be careful to make sure that the project doesn’t turn into just a compilation of events where liberation technology was used. Be sure to include lots of analysis about why these technologies are influential. You have analysis in here, and I know you’ll be fine, but I just want to remind you to stay away from just a list of events!

    This project is going to be interesting and incredibly timely, should be fun, Nate.


  3. Carlos F. says:

    It is really interesting that you have categorized something as common as cell phones as liberation technology. It seems everything now a days has access to the internet, and thanks to Facebook, twitter, texting, etc. they have a powerful influence as you pointed out. I’ve only recently begun realizing this and your source does a good job pointing out some of the major influences these technologies can wield. I personally do not use Facebook, twitter, or YouTube often, but I am realizing the strength it can have on getting news out before anyone else.

  4. surrealdolphin says:

    I think your topic is somehow absurdly timely with Tunisia and now Egypt. It is amazing how spontaneous these movements form with the aid of technology (or even lack thereof). It would be interesting to definitely see the breadth of cases where liberation technology has been taking root and how they are affecting the lives of those of very different backgrounds. I think the idea of the “super-empowered individuals” speaks to a lot in this day and age and it’s interesting how the reversal in power dynamic has played out.

    I think it would also be interesting to look at the governments’ interaction with this new technology, e.g. Egypt shutting down the Internet, Tunisia hijacking Facebook passwords, as well as positive uses such as mobile phone usage in India to help farmers escape the poverty trap. This is definitely an important (and relevant) topic and best of luck researching it!

  5. cmills91 says:

    I found this entry to be very similar to your presentation, and for me that’s a good thing because I found the presentation interesting. You did a good job of incorporating your source and giving a brief summary of its meaning to you you while also giving the audience a taste of what specific topics you may cover. This was an effective way to get the reader interested in both the remainder of the entry and your eventual paper. Stylistically, I liked that you incorporated a few informalities a little but of humor in your rhetoric; it was very appropriate for a blog post.

    I can’t really think of much for improvement at the moment, but perhaps you could try to reinforce your thesis? I know that it something like, “Revolutions and dictatorships born in violence are falling because ubiqitous technologies like cell phones and computers have magnified the opportunities for social change,” but maybe reiterating this and tying the examples from the second paragraph into it would have added to the post.

  6. Trevor Metoxen says:

    Mr. Mass,

    Clearly this source will be instrumental in your project as it outlines all of the major ideas you talked about in your proposal. It’s especially cool that you are going to have the opportunity to interview the author. Take full advantage of that!

    I did notice that your post is extremely example heavy, so don’t forget to discuss each example in depth as you go.

    The Kairos of your project is perfect, with what has just happened with Egypt still permeating the news and the many corners of the web.

  7. Sam G says:

    I saw Larry Diamond speak last quarter, and he was great. One suggestion is to look at how the impact of cell phones compares to the impact of the Internet. While the internet is ubiquitous in our wealthy, educated part of the world, I think cell phones have ultimately had a much great impact on political change. I think there are about 5 billion cell phones in the use in the world, internet usage doesn’t seem come close. Would also be interesting to compare historically to political change other communication technologies (tv, the printing press) have caused. Is this a permanent increase in freedom movements or merely a temporary one until the world adapts?

  8. Pingback: Cell Phones: A Powerful Addiction or a Powerful Solution? | mobiledevicegroup

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