The other day on Twitter, the righteously awesome Adele M. Stan of AlterNet asked me if I thought the massive police insurrection at this past weekend’s G20 Summit in Toronto had its roots in past security operations at events in the US (eg, the 2004 RNC convention in NYC). One can’t help but note the parallels with the civil-liberty crushing methods employed by cops at similar gatherings in the US. Indeed, Catherine Porter of the Toronto Star wrote a column on Saturday that laid out how the so-called Miami model of crowd control and information management had been employed by G20 security officials.
But a big difference between past protest spectacles and this latest international soiree of global elites is the recent advent of social media applications like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr.
Unlike NYC ’04 or Miami ’03, activists and ordinary citizens on the ground were able to document, upload and distribute information and images on a mass scale — all in real time. Mere moments after it occurred we could watch on YouTube as the horrifying swarm of cops in riot gear charged at peaceful protesters defiantly singing Oh Canada; we could view pics uploaded from cameraphones to Flickr and Twitpic throughout the weekend showing protesters garrisoned by blank-faced stormtroopers; and we could read the bewildered tweets from citizens caught in Sunday’s rainy, 5 hr street detention at Queen and Spadina, part of a harsh crackdown police claim was necessary following Saturday’s fiery explosion of senseless made-for-TV vandalism.
In other words, activists and journalists from non-traditional venues can now bypass the selective filter of corporate media outlets and get information to — and from — the masses before official spin siezes and distorts the narrative.
But before we claim social media as a panacea that will cure the information inbalance and magically counter expensive public relations efforts, keep in mind that The Powers That Be recognize the threat posed by open-source media — and the potential. The Israeli government has shown how social media can be successfully appropriated and effectively utilized to spread official propaganda and manage public perception of fluid events. We have to remember that, rather than instruments of bottom-up revolution, social media applications are in fact tools; they only work as well as the hands that wield them.
A hammer can be used to both build and destroy, depending on who swings it and why.
This is not to dismiss the vast possibilities for progressive activism and citizen journalism presented by new media technology. However, we must remain focused on using these mass communication tools in an effective manner — and on fully articulating the message behind the medium. It doesn’t matter how we capture the revolution for posterity if we don’t first craft a clear, coherent vision of change.
(Image: John N Mack, Twitpic)