Beyond Cyber-Optimism and Pessimism

Last week I attended SXSW, a mammoth festival of music, film, and social media that takes place in Austin, Texas, each spring. At SXSW Interactive (“south-by” to those in the know) I spoke on the panel Internet Power: After Cyber-Optimism and Pessimism with Patrick Meier of Ushahidi, Richard Boly of the Department of State’s eDiplomacy office, and Chris Bronk of Rice University.  Here are some of my comments:

  • Slacktivism is an inaccurate term. Even actions that are uniquely online in which people merely share content or express an opinion can shape public opinion and identify sympathizers for future mobilization.  Also, it seems that the people who take these actions are not politically active people getting lazy, but previously politically inactive people taking their first small step toward political engagement.
  • We are seeing the beginning to a “pop-up civil society” where loosely networked groups arise out of latent connections on social networks to take meaningful coordinated action (examples: SOPA/PIPA campaign, Kony 2012 sharers)
  • The narrative of the Kony 2012 video (protagonist, antagonist, crisis, call to action) was created in a way that any cause could have been dropped into that formula and had a similar result.  The power was in the framing, not the particular cause.

We did the event in a very conversational way because of our excellent audience, including Zeynep Tufekci of UNC Chapel Hill, Andy Carvin of NPR, Jennifer Preston of The New York Times, and Dave Parry of UT Dallas.

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