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.