Looking at 2 years of civil upheaval

And how social communication and social media enabled it to happen


There are two years in living memory that changed the world, altered the political landscape.  The first was 1989 – and the fall of communism in the Eastern Bloc and of course 2011 and the Arab Spring.

They have similarities to each other.  The West was not prepared nor did they expect it to happen.  The US, in particular did not recognise either uprising for what they were.  As such, those behind the change and the wider protesting public could not rely on support from the west. The first governments fell and changed easily – in the 1989 case, Hungary was the first without much fight.  In 2011, it was Tunisia.  As the change continued, change got harder – eg. Yugoslavia and Syria respectively.  Finally, and importantly, people power made it happen.

The differences though are also stark.  In 1989, the East – i.e. Mikhail Gorbachev recognised that, largely communism wasn’t effective financially anymore and that change coming through from the new breed communist who wanted change.  In 2011, there was no such movement from the top – it was people power.  Financials weren’t an issue – while there was the underclass and corruption, the Arab governments weren’t teetering on financial collapse.  The domino effect was similar, though – people demand change and there was little the powers that be could do about it – unless they resorted to civil warfare.

The communication and activism methods that were used by those in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria et al and those in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany et al would make for an interesting study – details that deserve to be explored won’t be here – if only for the fact that I don’t have 20 000 words and years to study.

In 1989, it was the brave few on Radio Free Europe, those publishing on-the-then ‘illegitimate’ media (eg. flyers that weren’t state sanctioned) and word of mouth that got the word round, that put together activists with different skills – so that their conquest could be achieved.

It was the same for 2011, though the tools were different.  In one sense, the Arab Spring occurred because the Arab leaders underestimated the power of the internet – the power that social media has to bring people together and for the sole purpose of ‘activism’.

The underlying philosophies of communication remained the same as was the purpose of the communication.  People power to overthrow oppressive governments.

Forgetting isolated incidents of activism, particularly those in free states – like the Cronulla Riots (see Trends in Social Activism Across Australian Minority Communities). The use of social technology in more destructive incidents like the London Riots or the Paris Riots also had a heavy use of social media.  There are countless examples but the use of Internet in oppressive states to overthrow governments, has a particular place in history.

If we assume that the word of mouth, use of traditional media and the purpose of the communications are the same for both the events of 1989 and 2011, then we should look at the technology and what advantages it gave to the proponents of the 2011 change and why the governments of the time underestimated its power.

There was almost a sense from the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt – the early runners in the Arab Spring that digital communications was only for social communication.  If they had looked deeper – even to previous activism, like the Cronulla Riots, they would have known that mass communication that social technology can bring allowed connections between people like never before.  

The social communication has been shaped out of necessity.  While on one side of the coin, we can tell each other that we ate corn flakes for breakfast, it has evolved as activists dream.  In the Arab Spring, its key role was to bring people together who had the skills and the want to do something – from advanced computer programming to those who just wanted to have their voice heard.  It brought about an efficiency to communication – an immediacy and an ability to get around censorship.

The immediacy of communication was vital.  Atrocities were being recorded and transmitted in real time, people’s emotion was being broadcast at the same time.  People could join immediately.  No longer did you need to smuggle photos out of the county, wait for Time or Newsweek to publish the photos.  No longer did you need, at least initially to wait for people to tell others.  All of a sudden there was no delay in the relay of information.  No longer did people have to take a leap of faith in what they were being told – they could see it, it was right there in front of them – for the first time in history.

Social media – from mobile phones, to video, to Facebook and Twitter to word of mouth were all able to be tailored to be fit-for-purpose for a governmental overthrow.  It also enabled a true bottom-up change.  Unlike in 1989, 2011 didn’t need any leaders who wanted change.  It didn’t need accredited journalists who put themselves in danger and happened to be at the right place in the right time.

It needed the people that wanted change.  It needed people to connect and use their skills for the greater good.  

While the recent past, the second half of 2012, the activism and rate of change has dramatically changed with the willingness of Heads of State to use force and war against their citizens, its purpose remains.  Video and pictures emerge from the countries detailing violence.  In times past, only professionals working through a network of smugglers would have been able to achieve this.  Now amateurs and activists can detail the news, bring to light the actions of a nation-state.

The social communication technology has proven that it can change for purpose and proven to be the most radical driver for change that we have experienced for many decades.

Atton C, 2004, Alternative Internet

Hands J, 2011, @ is for Activism

Kessler S, 2010, Why Social Media is reinventing activism

Martin M, 2012, Social Media changing the way of activism

Meyer M, 2009, The Year that Changed the World

Scott D, 2011, Trends in social activism across Australian minority communities

BBC, 2011, How Facebook changed the world: the Arab Spring

And a thanks to Dave Harte for his insight and summaries.

Sam Tickell


A personal story on bringing social capital into a new world

This entry is a bit of a follow up of my post looking at the ills of social media on creative art.  I want to look at the concepts of social capital and apply it away from a whole of world concept.

The traditional thinkers on social capital or Coleman, Bourdieu etc look at social capital as

“networks and the associated norms of reciprocity have value. They have value for the people who are in them, and they have, at least in some instances, demonstrable externalities, so that there are both public and private faces of social capital.”

                            Putman (p1)

There is much research suggesting social capital as a tool for societies to move forward, churches, associations and even governments taking networks, taking people’s behaviour and even wealth for the betterment of them, and maybe others.

The problem is that the definition and research around social capital is still quite new, still quite elastic so to transfer it to individuals or groups of people can be difficult.

In my last post, I mentioned that social media has made it easy to take people’s creative products and use them for their own gain without payment or even thanks to the creator of the product.

In one way, that was a bit of a personal gripe – and one that is shared by many of my photographer friends.  Conversely, social media has allowed be to gain work – infact, it has probably accounted for 80% of the work I have ever had.

Granted, I do (even if I say so) great work in motorsport media.  But so do many people so why do I get jobs over someone else?

This is where I come to social capital.

Over my decade in the sport, I have dedicated much of my time to learning the sport and helping the sport.  I worked for cheap or for free for the young guys, the struggling car clubs, those who didn’t have big media coverage.

I never really talked about my work online – I gave out links, advertised the people I was working for.

This allowed me to build up a sense of trust, of goodwill in the industry.  Importantly, people had seen that I wasn’t a fanboy, wasn’t there to get rich, and obviously seen the quality of my work.  Built up capital that I could spend elsewhere.

That is where the work came in and came in via social media.  80% of my work has come from social media, most of that from Twitter.  Most of it coming from people I have never met.  The payback was biggest when I was putting more in.  In 2012, the payback dried up a little as my focus was on the day job and study.  The more I put in, the more came out – again offers from people I don’t know – just know me from my efforts in the sport.

The links to social capital may be tenuous and it is difficult to explain it in a short blog post but social capital is something that we can interpret and use beyond large and obscure political theory.

It is also where social media will influence social capital.  The world is changing faster than some can comprehend and faster than research can view.  A PhD is a minimum of three years – in that time behaviours come and go – although we may now reach a plateau to better look at social capital in the 21st century.  It will function differently with different tools.  It won’t have to be marketing – infact marketing may lessen your social capital.  It will be genuineness and sincerity to your cause, to your virtual community.

No longer will people have to talk in a church or community hall to build social capital.  They can do it from the comfort of their living room with people they will never meet.

The creative conundrum

Social media brought self publishing to the masses.  It radically changed the music industry, the news industry, the public relations industry  and the wider media industry.  Everyone  had easier and cheaper access to creative art.  People with no discernible talent could make their name online with cheap access to acquiring and distributing creative art.

While Flickr has lost of lot of its lustre to services like Instagram and Pinterest, it was the photo sharing service that revolutionised photo sharing.  If offered a source for the sharing – a way that people could upload their photos and share.  In a way completing the cycle that digital cameras started.  It allows trends to be set – like  Mermaid Parade, it allows easy access to news photos from difficult situations and it allows a new type of business person – the  collector.

The collector is the one that takes the work of others and puts it on their own accounts – does it a lot and gets many, many followers.  They get the credit, or something like it despite never creating anything or paying the copyright.

It is something we hear a lot about in music and movies but not so much in art or, particularly photography.

It is something that these industries will have to figure out.  As social media, and the behaviours that Flickr, Pinterest and Facebook in particular encourage.

For the public relations professional, it can be fantastic – it is a great way to get your client’s name out there without having to go to a lot of effort or more importantly, cost.  It can also be useful for the journalist, as they can bring you pictures and media as never before – very important in a 24 hour news cycle world.

But what about the artists themselves?

How do they pay their bills and where is the encouragement for them to ply their trade, shell out the funds for the equipment, travel to destinations, post process and distribute?  It was a hard industry to make money in before, now it is even more difficult.

Social media tends to drive a quantity over quality mindset when it comes to art.  In a way, it is the expansion of digital technology to sharing digital technology.  In the past, only the best photos made it magazines, made it to people’s eyes.

You just have to look at Instagram.  There are 58 photos a second (http://www.digitalbuzzblog.com/infographic-instagram-stats/) uploaded to the site.   Finding the quality ones are difficult.  On the other hand, Pinterest is growing at an amazing rate but those pins are generally taken from other areas of the Internet or media and repurposed for a board.

Which is fine, except that people get to use a photographer or other artist’s work for free.   How does one go about claiming the fee for the service of taking the picture?  If there is no fee, talented artists don’t get to fund their talents and they don’t take the pictures they once would have.

The odd part about it is that we seem to accept it for creative services, but would we for physical items?

This is not a post to be an apologist for social media or those in creative industries.  Business models and copyright legislation needs to catch up to the new world.  Services that started with the advent of digital technology, revolutionised by services like Flickr have made things more accessible, cheaper.

“Here Comes Everybody,” chapter 2 outlines transaction costs and the significantly decreased costs that crowd sourced and digital have.  People in the creative arts need to earn, it isn’t all about ‘cost’ and that is a conundrum that these industries must resolve.Sam Tickell

Bringing the world to itself – what YouTube did

The internet has revolutionised business and communications for a new generation. We’ve seen the rise of the mega-giants. The Google, the Facebook. We’ve also seen the fall of the pioneers – the Yahoos and the My Spaces. It always takes guts to plunge your time, money and heart into a start up. Afterall, the stats say that only 10-40% succeed (http://www.gabrielweinberg.com/blog/2010/05/startup-company-failure-rates-are…

Infact YouTube could have been the same if it wasn’t for previous experience. The project was not the first project of its founders. They had failed before but they came back. They came at the right time – when the IT infrastructure was ready, when the internet users were ready to be able to create their own worlds. The previous YIRN project would prove crucial for YouTube creators as “YIRN was productive in the way that failures can be – it spawned quite a few bigger and better research projects in urban informatics, digital storytelling, youth creative enterprise and development communication” (Hartley p128)

It allowed YouTube to come in at the right time and the right knowledge and as Hartley mentions – timing was everything. But more importantly, there was the ability for people to change. Generation Y had grown up with technology and could be considered as ‘digital natives’. It has not been something taught at school (Hartley p130) but rather intrinsic knowledge – that enables innovation.

It also enables a wider pool of participants – not only from the ability to take the construction of media away from the select few in the broadcast industry to the whole but it also opens up those in traditionally disadvantaged locations – i.e. rural and remote areas (Hartley p127). It has enabled two way communication with near universal access for the first time.

The ability to self produce media on a worldwide scale raises issues of story telling ability, credibility and literacy on the topic discussed (Hartley p131). Despite these issues, the rate of productivity from a previously latent audience is significant. It also hasn’t seen the demise of traditional broadcast media – rather it has slotted in to the TV show/movie paradigm (Hartley p131). This helps ensure that everyone can have their voice – while those with credentials can bring it together and bring it to the masses. In its own way YouTube and other digital mediums have formed their own lobby group – one that is not limited by money, geographic location or traditional boundaries of storytelling. As such, people. stories and experiences can thrive in this new world.

Sam Tickell

Social media on the organisation

Organisations are complex and communication across large organisations or geographically disparate organisations can be complex.  We have phones, video conferencing, email, even document sharing but the system is inefficient, taking more time than what it should and leaving many important messages unread.  People’s expertise aren’t utilised and feelings are hurt.

Email was meant to revolutionise this system, bring people closer together, make things easier – connect employees and work in with traditional organisational models and contemporary models alike.

As outlined in “Here Comes Everybody” in chapter 2, organisations work on a transaction basis where the outcome from the transition must be worth more than the effort that went in to making the transitions.

In theory, existing tools help this but the ease of communication between two people has had the reverse affect.  Volumes of communication have ensured that transaction costs for an individual can be high for any project and tracking the communication trail, finding the expertise, actions and outcomes over a group of people can become burdensome and inaccurate.

It becomes more and more difficult with a group of people.  As outlined in “The Mythical Man-Month” adding employees can increase the cost of project, both financially and in time as their opinions need to be sort and reconciled with the others in the group.  This is exacerbated if implemented towards the end of the project.  The phenomenon becomes even more difficult if the bulk of the communications is over a one-to-one channel like email.

Traditionally, trying to tackle this issue has been impossible due to IT infrastructure and the cost to develop a system.  Since the advent of popular social channels and the widespread effectiveness and private adoption, such systems are more available for organisations.

Using social media services for organisational communications cheaply (and securely) allows many-to-many communication.   This allows better ideas sharing but importantly it decreases the costs of coordination groups and projects.  There is also enhanced transparency as the majority of communications are not held on a single employees computer.

While the legislative arm has not caught up with social communications as yet so issues of harassment and record keeping will continue to evolve.

Some organisations have lept into the social communication by eliminating the use of corporate email, while many more have taken a hybrid approach.  In many organisations, the issues of IT security, set-up budgets and corporate culture have to be overcome, the tools are now available to improve the efficiency of organisational communication – and decrease the transaction costs of doing business.

Sam Tickell

Who is the keyboard warrior

Is it true that when we get behind a keyboard we change? Do we come better or worse than our every day selves?

It seems that we change when we get online.  Whether we post in Twitter or on a blog or a forum we change.  And you could argue that we change across each medium.  Afterall if you have 140 characters to get your point across on Twitter compared to the 370ish words I can use in this post, the tone, the message, the personality of the post will change.

Even a post on this Posterous page compared to a post on www.racerviews.com or a guest post on another site  – each are going to change.  They have to.

It has nothing to do with being an evil person who will change his spots as soon as someone turns their back.  The audience demands it.  The audience that I imagine read this compared to the audience that I know reads RacerViews are different.

The audience that reads a 100 page report is going to be different to the audience that reads 50 Shades of whatever.

That is not new.  What is new is that everyone does it, everyone does it everyday.  Everyone does it on tools that didn’t exist five years ago.

It is also not new though for everyone to do it in the analogue existence either.  If I was in a job interview or work function, I’m pretty sure that the behavioural expectations are different to if I am at the pub with my mates.

What is now different is the huge reach of our individual communications and the damage that can be done.  We are seeing ever increasing instances of people behaving differently online to what they would in real life.  The vile Twitter trolls or those who taunt football refs are two such examples.

We don’t necessarily know who we are online or who we talk to.  In one sense we are all the same faceless person but not always.  Our messages though always have a purpose and an intended reader.

Elements of authenticity and genuine-ness are there.  Portrayed, imagined – hoped for.   That exists and it is ok. You just have to hope the person on the other screen agrees with you…

Why aren’t we teaching kids how to use social media?

Much of the time, educational institutions miss the point of educating their students on social media.

I write this on the back of this article that appears in The Age newspaper. http://www.theage.com.au/technology/quit-facebook-or-be-expelled-school-says-20120516-1yqp0.html

This is happening in the town where I live, and we know that the State Education body is sorely lacking in foresight in social media, what it is, the impact that it has on people’s lives and the education that is needed to make people responsible online citizens.

Undoubtedly we want to avoid any kind of negative consequences that comes from social media – and in particular, we want to avoid bullying and harassment.

In Queensland, the education board has essentially banned any access to social media, with teachers pulling their hair out as they can’t provide access to learning materials or even educate the students on how to use social media.  Banning social media access, even for primary school kids, only sends the problem underground.  People will try to hide it, hide their access, hide the fact that they may be getting bullied.

You make it a taboo.  You make being bad on it akin to smoking.  Banning it makes it cool.

What you need to do is open up access, bring it out from the dark underbelly of schools and organisations.  You need to educate people on what is acceptable.  You need to empower people – particualrly primary school students on how to use social media.  You need to empower them to speak up if they find bullying behaviour or are being bullied themselves.

We are hearing more and more of teens committing suicide due to bullying.  We know that to talk about the problem – bring the problems out in the open is a great way of helping these kids.  So why are school principals, government workers and organisations forcing this underground.

You may not want to admit that is, or could be happening in your area.  But it is.

Lets tackle this like adults – and give the kids the knowledge to handle this too.

It ain’t going away.

*** I work in social media, I don’t have counselling or psychology training.

*** Wrote this on the fly, so please forgive any grammar or syntax errors.