Research Questions for the Social Media Revolutionist

Moldova protest image from NYTimes.com

Meme of the moment: the microblog-fueled social change movement.  In the last fortnight alone, activist organizers around the world have used 140-character-or-less messages to bring together anti-government riots in Moldova and anti-Amazon.com tirades in cyberspace.  Fans have rallied behind actor Ashton Kutcher’s noble quest to become the most followed in the Twitterverse.  And around the nation, conservatives painfully unaware of the pop-culture meaning of ‘teabag’ have come together to, well, teabag.

This is by no means a new phenomenon.  Notable recent cases include the organizing and then reporting of unrest in Myanmar,  SMS-fueled demonstrations in China and the grassroots instigation of the 1999 Seattle World Trade Center protests.  Indeed, with a broader view, one could likely argue that short messages passed among social networks have been driving change for centuries if not millenia (I’ll leave that one to the historians).

But the microblog movements of the past two weeks at least represent a new chapter in this story, and may well be canonizing new rules.  They deserve to be studied in earnest.  I already have enough on my academic plate, so here are a few open research questions to get somebody else started:

First off, how is rallying behind a Hollywood star and his mundane messages different from banding together to attempt government overthrow?  It’s a fair question.  How does the decision making process work at the individual level and en mass — can you map the networks from influencers to influenced?  Is there an Oprah of the Moldovan movement, or is it more decentralized?  Do the individual actors on the ground have a more coherent idea of what they’re doing and why?

Secondly, what’s different about movements that spill into widespread ‘real-world’ action as opposed to protests which play out primarily in digital space?  Do they last longer?  Do they involve more people?  Did the action in Moldova share more similarities with the teabaggers in the US than with #Amazonfail and Ashton’s publicity coup?

And ultimately, what does decentralization and time compression mean for the future of political philosophy?  Are we really dissolving into a world of one-off stunts disconnected from justifying ideologies, or was there just as much evidence of flippance in the first tea party in 1773?

Is this really so revolutionary?


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thoughts at the collision of business, brand and creativity

I'm Ryan Cunningham. I help companies and culture play nice with each other. At CREATURE we call this Brand Strategy, a term that carries a nice halo of reliability and structure. Here, I'm just another guy who thinks about the world and writes it down from time to time.

The result is a pile of knowledge to be used in, and for, the future. Feel free to sift through the heap for useful connections.

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