Our online bookclub is reading Zeynep Tufekci’s Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest (our store via Amazon). With this post we approach the end by discussing Chapters 8, “Signaling Power and Signaling to Power” and 9, “Governments Strike Back.”
In this post I’ll briefly summarize the text, then add some reflections and questions. You can participate by writing comments here, or through whichever other means you like (Twitter comments, Hypothes.is annotations, etc.).
If you’d like to check out other moments of our discussion of this book, you can find all blog posts and their associated comments filed under https://bryanalexander.org/tag/tufekci/.
Also since last week there’s been a lot of controversy and hot takes on the French yellow jackets movement, which continues to roil that nation and also mobilizes social media, in fine Tufekci style. Here’s one argument that people overstate the role of Facebook.
Chapter 8 focuses on exploring social movements in terms of three signaling capacities they can exercise: narrative capacity, which creates and promulgates an alternative story about the world; disruptive capacity, which can intervene in a social or political process; electoral or institutional capacity, the ability to achieve political influence (192). Most of the chapter dwells on the Occupy movement, assessing it as having succeeded in creating narrative capacity, but not disruptive capacity nor electoral impact. Tufekci contrasts this with the Tea Party, which became much more influential (216-8).
Chapter 9, “Governments Strike Back,” explores ways that states can check dissident movements beyond censorship. These include waiting out a protest without taking much action, censoring selected content that calls for social action or is geographically close to other content sources (235), flooding media spaces with distracting content (237), spreading disinformation about a topic (239), seeking to marginalize a platform (241), and combining surveillance with leaked documents (251). The chapter concludes by examining how the Turkish government used social media protest techniques to preserve itself against a 2016 coup attempt.(254-60)
A key takeaway: “Keep in mind that attention, not information per se, is the most crucial resource for a social movement.” (227)
I’m struck by how little a role is played by media, information, or digital literacy practices in the book.
- Can you apply the triple capacity model to other recent social movements, such as the gilets jaunes?
- This book went to press during the 2016 American presidential election. To what extent did the Trump campaign and the subsequent administration make use of chapter 9’s techniques?
- Chapter 9 concludes on a positive note about Turkey’s ISPs and telecommunication companies. What role might other nation’s firms play in enabling government repression?
Coming up next week: a bonus post on the book’s Epilogue.
And remember that all of our discussion can be found here.