There’s been a lot of debate lately regarding the extent of the role that social media played in Egypt’s street protests that led to the ouster of its oppressive President. As Al Jazeera English revealed in this video, young activists actually trained and prepared to mobilize the public far in advance of any street protest. It’s even been uncovered (see this The Nation article) that Egyptian blogger activists even looked to American social nonviolent movements like Martin Luther King’s as templates to follow as they executed organizing strategy. In fact, the application of such approach went as far as distributing copies in Tahrir Square of a translated version a 50 year old comic book relating to the nonviolent civil disobedience tactics of MLK. Exponentially adding to all this on-the-ground organizing, it could very well be said that new media technology helped accelerate the organizing process at an unprecedented rate. This topic was perhaps perfectly examplified by what young Egyptian activists were saying during the protests, going as far as mentioning Facebook by name on camera. This was precisely captured by a video that aired on Cenk Uygur on MSNBC Live:
If you think that such extraordinary mobilization of people-power networks of communications are only a thing of a far and distant land, you’ll find yourself mistaken. Most everyone has heard of the progressive blogosphere or even of the overrated Tea Party (the Tea Party could actually be said to be the opposite of a nonviolent group, being that its supporters often are encouraged to bring guns to rallies), but one of the most underreported stories of mobilizations through new media is the rise of the Latino blogger in the U.S. Take for example what happened last year with the online mobilization that took place behind the DREAM Act and most recently with the murder trial of Shawna Forde: that under-the-radar story came up to the forefront thanks in large part to the online activism of “promigrant” online activists. Last February 14th, anti-immigrant Minuteman Shawna Forde was convicted of murdering a 9 year-old Latina girl and her father in cold blood in Arizona.
Prior to this story getting national media attention, it had been virtually ignored by the mainstream media until bloggers started to focus on this gruesome case of a hate crime. According to The Washington Post:
The organization Cuentame posted a video online last week asking, “Is hate turning to violence?” It elicited hundreds of comments.
“There’s a few places writing about this, but it is not getting the attention it deserves,” said Eric Rodriguez, vice president of the National Council of La Raza. “It should be shocking to more people. Is there any circumstance where what took place is acceptable to people?”
The conversation is being led by Hispanic bloggers and picked up by activists, who are focused on Forde’s ties to the border militia movement.
Why was it important for this story to receive major media coverage besides the obvious and most immediate pursuit of justice against the now-convicted murderer Forde? Because in light of the recent assassination attempt perpetuated on Congresswoman Giffords’ life, it became even more pressing to highlight just how anti-immigrant incendiary rhetoric can potentially have tragic consquences, especially among those that already have vile hatred in their hearts and are readily primed to commit henious acts of violence against innocents like Brisenia. Online communications through social media enabled activists to shine some light onto the dark connection between anti-immigrant hatred and gruesome violence against Latinos and other minorities.
As we have seen, whether it happens abroad in Egypt, or it happens right here in the United States, it seems that more than ever young people are using new media technology to accelerate popular mobilizations in support of social justice issues. Some would argue, this is the very exact reason why we need to have true “Net Neutrality” codified into our laws, so that activism that attempts to fight for social justice does not get suppressed by out-of-touch big powers-that-be that feel threatened by such social justice movements. According to Latinos for Internet Freedom:
The huge corporations that provide your Internet connection (AT&T, Verizon and Comcast) want to make even more money by controlling websites, video, content and applications. Instead of treating all sites and services equally, they want to be able to discriminate, deciding which sites and applications load faster or slower.
AT&T, Verizon and Comcast want to make sure the public has easy access to their own sites and services while blocking access to independent sites or those owned by their competitors.
Without Net Neutrality, small businesses, nonprofits, social justice and civil rights groups, and other organizations that can’t afford high-speed services would lose their ability to reach a mass audience, restricting their participation online.
Restricting access to the internet to a selected privileged few rather than keeping it open for everyone would potentially impact Latino online activists and other minorities in a very negative way; it is no surprise that prominent legislators, like Senator Al Franken, have called Net Neutrality “the most important free speech issue of our time“.
So what do think? Are we going to be talked into giving up our freedom to communicate and network with one another to bring about justice and positive change, or are we going to be silenced all in the name of the almighty profit?