Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

The Internet: A political revolution waiting for you

Flickr/Rob Boudon
Flickr/Rob Boudon

Our generation uses the Internet on a daily basis, constantly interacting with one of the most revolutionary tools the world has ever witnessed. We are familiar with the workings of the web and know how to operate within social media. Will we use this powerful medium solely for entertainment purposes, or will we channel our efforts to confront the problems that face our society?

People often say that they wish they had grown up in the 1960s or ‘70s out of a desire to be a part of the massive political movements that developed around the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War. Maybe no one is paying attention, but there are still plenty of things to protest today. Civil rights are violated daily. The United States has been at war for 13 years and the cost of higher education is shackling our generation to enormous amounts of debt. And though we are faced with monumental problems, we have a greater capacity to organize than any other society has had before us.

The Internet has revolutionized media, creating an interactive medium that blurs the line between producer and consumer. Internet users can create their own original content, comment on the work of others and communicate with anyone else who has an Internet connection. As most students are well aware of, the Internet provides nearly limitless avenues for procrastination, but it can also serve as a powerful political tool capable of shaking the very foundations of power relations.

During the 20th century, mass media had a near monopoly on the dissemination of information. Media owners decided which stories the public would hear, and there were few ways for consumers to respond. The Internet changed the relationship between media and the public by making it easy and less expensive for ordinary people to publish stories or critiques of their own. This decentralized the production of media and created countless alternatives to the few options once offered by corporate conglomerates.

Yochai Benkler writes extensively on the effects of the Internet in regard to information consumption and dissemination. He describes how the Internet creates a “networked public sphere” in which individuals can communicate and organize around issues they care about. In “The Wealth of Networks,” Benkler writes, “(T)he networked public sphere enables many more individuals to communicate their observations and their viewpoints to many others, and to do so in a way that cannot be controlled by media owners and is not as easily corruptible by money as were the mass media.”

The Internet provides an outlet where a single individual can make their opinions accessible to a worldwide audience. It allows like-minded individuals to find one another and, if they wish, to organize actions to promote their agendas. The Internet provides an open canvas where people can spend endless hours on entertaining distractions or devote their energies to coordinating meaningful political action.

As Clay Shirky writes for Foreign Affairs, “social media have become coordinating tools for nearly all of the world’s political movements.” The world has already seen dozens of Internet-fuelled protests. Some have even ousted political leaders, such as the protests in Ukraine last month and those in Egypt in 2011. While the Internet did not cause these protests and revolutions, they certainly empowered the organizers. As Sam Gustin of Wired writes, “these tools did speed up the process by helping to organize the revolutionaries, transmit their message to the world and galvanize international support.”

For those who are familiar with the Internet, its ability to effectively organize people and serve as an outlet for opinion is readily apparent. However, there is a huge difference between voicing concerns online and taking concrete action in the real world. Political rants on Facebook and blogs are commonplace, but have no impact whatsoever on policy. People must organize around their opinions and place pressure upon lawmakers to actually influence change. You cannot “like” your way to a revolution, but social media can certainly be used to coordinate the action needed to make political reforms.

Jason Roche is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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    Spider BoliverMar 27, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    Mr. Roche,
    Excellent article! During the early 60’s I was the student technical director for all UMASS rallies and concerts. Also, I was one of the Collegians photo editors during the change from a weekly to a daily.
    I have been developing products and businesses for the entertainment industry for 50 years…
    This week I met with Janine Sicks of the Alumni office to discuss my developing retrospective programming around the 50 year anniversary of the life changing events of the 60’s.
    My Foundation’s WebHall network design addresses many of the issues surrounding controlling the internet and monetizing information. I’ve begun to engage various departments and individuals on campus to build a collaboration around launching the WebHall network on MASSBroadband123 the state’s new fibre network connecting 123 communities in Western MA.
    If you are interested in writing about my work please contact me at 413 244-2501 [email protected]
    Thank You Jason,