Participatory Politics

New Media, New Civics? The Bellwether Lecture at the Oxford Internet Institute

Tuesday, December 10, 2013 Comment rally in india men holding facebook signs peace signs

The Oxford Internet Institute was kind enough to invite me to give the inaugural lecture in their Bellwether Series. The OII’s director, Professor Helen Margetts, introduced the series explaining that she hoped talks would anticipate what is to come in the space of internet and society…and explained that the word “Bellwether” came from a middle English word for a castrated ram, who was fitted with a bell and made to lead a flock of sheep. That’s pretty ominous compared to my assumption when I was invited, which was that they found someone named Bellwether to sponsor


Human Rights and Social Media in India: Blank Noise

Monday, October 21, 2013 Comment group of teenagers leaning against outside fence in india

On a recent visit to Sarai, a Delhi research think tank housed in the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, I met a number of female university students who described participating in the mass protests that occurred after a 23-year-old physiotherapy student was raped and murdered in what many perceived as an event that unleashed a torrent of dissent to express longstanding dissatisfaction about lax policing and prosecution of crimes against women in India.  Participants recounted assaults at demonstrations that included braving tear gas, water cannons, and violent interruptions by police of the peaceful sharing


Pepper Spray and Penguins: Analysis of Turkey’s Social Media-fueled Gezi Protests

Thursday, October 03, 2013 Comment protest sign in the air and hand holding iphone during turkey protest

The Gezi protests took everyone, including the protesters themselves, by surprise. “This wasn’t what I had planned to do in June at all,” said a man in his early 30s to me as we sat in the small grassy area in front of his tent where he had been staying for more than a week. His wife nodded as she fiddled with her smartphone. I asked her what she was looking at. “Twitter,” she said, “I’m just getting the hang of it.” The protesters in Gezi were also getting the hang of being tear-gassed – as


Using Social Media for Women’s Rights: Breakthrough

Friday, September 13, 2013 Comment students working around table on laptops

The horrific Delhi gang rape case in which a 23-year-old physiotherapy student was murdered as a result of a grotesque sexual assault brought tens of thousands of protesters into the streets of the city to express outrage about the prevalence of gender-based violence in India.  Many have credited access to sites like Facebook and Twitter for allowing Indian citizens to express their dissent, but the story of political organization and awareness campaigns on the ground is much more complicated and predates this galvanizing high-profile crime by a number of years. For example, Breakthrough describes itself as


Social Media: Brazil’s Indigenous Tribes Go Online in their Struggle To Be Heard

Friday, September 06, 2013 Comment screenshot of stop the belo monte dam facebook page

Brazil has several marginalized groups that often don’t have a voice in government decision-making and are invisible to the majority of the country’s population. One such group, the country’s indigenous tribes, must constantly fight for their land against farmers and developers. Conflicts arise regularly but very few of them reach into the mainstream because they happen in isolated areas (for example, in the Amazon rainforest or in the Mato Grosso do Sul‘s savannah and swamp areas where several tribes are fighting to retain their lands). Confronted with the need to raise visibility and awareness of their


Social Media, Citizen Media, Online Tools Are Shaping Brazil’s Protests and Politics

Friday, June 28, 2013 Comment large crowd of protesters rallying in brazil outside government building

What started earlier this month as a protest against the cost of public transportation has spread like wildfire across Brazil. One estimate said protests have taken place in 430 cities. The range of issues has grown too, including education reform, high taxes, healthcare and public corruption. I’m not sure there has ever been so much discussion about the country by so many people using social media – and it has created some instability for the government. To begin to understand the story that is unfolding, two colleagues, Fabio Malini from the Universidade Federal do Espírito Santo


Be Quiet and Don’t Move So You Can Be Heard

Thursday, June 20, 2013 Comment protesters standing outside building in turkey with turkey flag

Last Saturday, one day after I left Istanbul following an intense week of interviews with more than 100 Gezi Park protest participants, Turkish police forcefully cleared out the park, which had been occupied by protesters for the last three weeks trying to halt the construction of a replica Ottoman Barracks and a shopping mall in Taksim Square’s only park. It was a sad, violent end to a joyful, eventful occupation that had a Woodstock meets Paris Commune vibe, where drum circles got interrupted by tear gas volleys, and diverse groups ranging from soccer fans to anti-capitalist


The Role of Social Media, Citizen Media in Latest Anti-Government Unrest in Brazil

Friday, June 14, 2013 Comment passe livre sao paulo political organization facebook group page

Like Turkey, Brazil is seeing a wave of anti-government protests it hasn’t seen in years. Thousands of residents in several cities, including Brazil’s two biggest cities, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, are now organizing protests. Protests started in Sao Paolo after the government had authorized (another) increase in bus fares in the city. Through social media, the movement “Passe Livre” (Free Pass) formed online and quickly drew more than 50,000 supporters. Most of the protesters are university students, although officials said “anarchists” looking for a fight were also taking part. Mainstream media are portraying the


Networked Politics from Tahrir to Taksim: Is there a Social Media-fueled Protest Style?

Monday, June 03, 2013 Comment man standing holding peace signs in city in front of thousands of protesters

Protesters from one of the world’s richest countries, one of the world’s oldest autocracies, and one of the world’s rising developing countries walk into … a public space, use Twitter extensively, and capture global attention to their movement and their hashtag. From “#Occupy Wall Street” in the United States to the #M15 movement in Spain, from Tahrir Square and #Jan 25 in Egypt, to Taksim Square and #occupygezi in Turkey, there have been a variety of social movements that, while coming from strikingly different backgrounds and contexts, also share structural and stylistic elements. In this post,


What Comes After Election Monitoring? Citizen Monitoring of Infrastructure

Monday, April 29, 2013 Comment black man speaking into bull horn at rally

I was recently in Senegal at a board meeting for Open Society Foundation, meeting organizations the foundation supports around the continent. Two projects in particular stuck in my mind. One is Y’en a Marre (“Fed Up”), a Senegalese activist organization led by hiphop artists and journalists, who worked to register voters and oust long-time president Abdoulaye Wade. (I wrote about them last week here, and on Wikipedia). The other is a project run by Open Society Foundation West Africa – OSIWA – with support from partners in Senegal, Liberia, Nigeria and the UK. It’s an election