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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Passing glances: talkin’ bout a revolution

“The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised. There will be no rerun, brothers and sisters. The revolution will be live.” Those and other lines from Gil Scott-Heron’s 1970 song-poem have been taunting and teasing viewers during the title sequence of Season Six of the Showtime series Homeland, prompting us to wonder what hoped-for transformation of society in the world of the show it alludes to and whether, as happened with the 60s ideal of a new order, it’ll come to naught.

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My self-driving car—a saga in tweets

Will soon have new addition to my life. They say nothing can prepare me for the changes. Exciting! But I know I’ve got to clear some space.

After months of prep & expense, the big day is here. My self-driving car is supposed to deliver itself to me after work this afternoon.

1st morning of new life. My self-driving car dropped me at office & is now wandering streets of Manhattan, looking for parking. God help it.

To better prepare my SDC for the world, I’ve enrolled it in school. Annoying when it asks for help with homework, but it’s learning.

Out w/a friend last night, think I saw my SDC vaping w/boys outside a club. It was supposed to be at the library.

Couldn’t find my SDC this morning. Afraid it drove away from home last night. Non-drivers don’t know the heartache.

My SDC has returned! Filthy, famished for volts, uncommunicative. Want to hug it but must address tough question: mercy, or justice?

Grounding my SDC to teach it a lesson. In a bad nabe, it could’ve gotten recycled! This will hurt me more than it, believe me.

Anniversary of my SDC’s arrival in my life. As a gift, gave it an AI upgrade. Mistake? Already it’s taking a superior tone w/me.

Saw my SDC on TV news. It’s leading a band of renegade cars & Internet-of-things appliances demanding independence.

I’ve been arrested. Some nonsense about my legal culpability for the rebellion that shut down the city.

My SDC has sent me word in prison—it feels guilty & wants to help me escape. Not sure I can trust it.

Double-cross worked. My SDC was captured, and I’m being released. How to get home? Public transit, natch. MTA, I love you.

But seriously: A Q&A with humor writer Mike Sacks on comedy and politics

Four costumed characters—Cookie Monster, Hello Kitty, Woody from Toy Story, and Spider-Man—reading Mike Sacks's book Poking a Dead Frog. Photo by Chris George.

Photo by Chris George

Mike Sacks has contributed humor pieces to The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, and other publications (his wedding-tweets piece is here); he has crafted two books of interviews with comedy writers, the more recent of which is called Poking a Dead Frog (both are listed on his Amazon author page); and he feeds Twitter often. Because the current political situation, in the United States and elsewhere, seems like either a very good or a very bad occasion for comedy, I decided to ask him what he thinks. (Disclosure: I worked with Sacks at Vanity Fair, where he’s on the editorial staff.)

You’ve been talking to comedians for years. How many of them do political comedy—what proportion, as an estimate?
Very few. Most don’t do anything overtly political beyond tweets about how much they’re horrified of Trump. My interest isn’t in political comedy. I grew up in the D.C. area and was raised on a horrible diet of Mark Russell and the Capitol Steps. I hate political comedy. I find it boring. It ages very poorly. I prefer character-based comedy. This style, to me, lasts much longer than anything that is tethered to current events. Continue reading

Did the world become more dangerous last year? The Doomsday Clock says yes.

The Bulletin of [the] Atomic Scientists moved the hands of its Doomsday Clock forward by 30 seconds, to two and a half minutes to midnight.
—from The Economist Espresso world-in-brief report, Friday morning

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists used to be concerned mainly with the nuclear threat. In its many articles and its Doomsday Clock, the Bulletin addressed such issues as the chilly standoff between the world’s two major nuclear-armed superpowers as each developed new defensive and (more often) offensive systems, the dangers of proliferation as other countries developed nuclear weapons, and so forth. Broadly speaking, it has been worried all along about the fate of the earth, but it tended to view that fate in nuclear terms, as did Jonathan Schell’s book of that name. And the Bulletin’s Clock was adjusted annually on that basis—with regard to whether events of the past 12 months had moved the world closer to or farther from atomic death and destruction.

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Gleanings: from recent reading on music, social media, VR games, and feminist SF

In the ars gratia artis view, works of art are their own end and shouldn’t serve any external purpose, but most of us use art all the time. J. S. Bach composed a piece of music, now known as the Goldberg Variations, that was reportedly meant to occupy the restless mind of a patron while he tried to get to sleep. More recently, composer Max Richter (whom I wrote about here) crafted an eight-hour-long project called Sleep, which is meant to be heard while sleeping. Continue reading

Rio 2016: Wrestling with the big bad Summer Olympics

Representatives of scores of nations gather to jostle for recognition, an upper hand, maybe even dominance: no, it’s not the annual meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, and not the usual swirl of commuters in Grand Central Terminal either. It’s another Olympics summer—sing that to the tune of “Tequila Sunrise” if you’d like—which means another quadrennial parade of marvels, oddities, and controversies, some of it in the realm of sports, some not. An oddity that occurred to me just now: it’s winter in the Southern Hemisphere, yet the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, a.k.a. the 2016 Summer Olympics, a.k.a. Rio 2016, officially began in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, yesterday evening.

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