The Way We Protest Now: Zeynep Tufekci on activism in the age of social media

On January 28, 2011, a man on Cairo’s Talaat Harb Street, near Tahrir Square, tries to pick up and throw back a tear-gas canister.

On January 28, 2011, just days after the first protest gathering, a man on Cairo’s Talaat Harb Street, near Tahrir Square, tries to pick up and throw back a tear-gas canister. (Photo by Alisdare Hickson. Original image here. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.)

For the better part of a decade, we’ve been watching protest movements arise around the world and wondering what role was played by Twitter, Facebook, and the like. Did Facebook bring down the Egyptian government in 2011? How did the Tea Party movement in the United States elect sympathetic legislators while the Occupy Wall Street movement did not? Did Chinese government censorship of online platforms thwart the democracy activists in Hong Kong in 2014? Was it their methods or the activists themselves that succeeded in some cases and not in others? In Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest, Zeynep Tufekci, a sociologist who has been studying and often participating in digitally networked movements since the late 90s, discusses the new technologies, how they’re used by protest movements, and how they’re used as well as countered by governments and opposing groups.

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What to do before the sun goes out: reading suggestions

Depending on which way you lean, you may feel that a darkness is upon the land. Relax—it’ll get worse soon! A total eclipse of the sun—not to be confused with this—will cut a swath across the United States on August 21, leading perhaps to “Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!” (as the original Ghostbusters had it) or maybe just a lot of oohs and aahs and other exclamations of epic awesomeness. The few, the proud, the unimpressed may not be moved, but hardly anyone will be able to say, “I’ve seen better.”

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