Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Flight to Cairo

In preparing for leading a workshop on "Remixing Human Rights: Rethinking civic expression, safety, privacy and consent in online and mobile video" for the Digital Media and Learning "Designing Learning Futures" conference, the seeming potency of Internet practices that have toppled authoritarian regimes in Egypt and Tunis during the past month make staying current difficult.

My workshop co-organizer, Sam Gregory of Witness has already weighed in on the situation in a posting on "Our Responsibility to Bear Witness," but as a more provincial educator who knows Egypt largely as the place where I once won a dance contest cruising down the Nile as a tourist, I am still trying to filter information to understand the role of social media in mobilizing protesters in the streets and to interpret how agents of dissent used multiple platforms, as in the case of Speak2Tweet, shown above, which fostered broadcasting on the World Wide Web via land-line telephone when the Internet was turned off in Egypt.

As Beth Coleman has pointed out, the Western press doesn't always locate the local flashpoints of conflict correctly, even with English commentary and crowd sourcing able to point the way. For example, although much has been made about the self-immolation of fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunis, Coleman claims that the dissemination of YouTube videos of civilian massacres outside the capital shot with cell phones also played a critical role in civic revolt. (See "Please tell the world Kasserine is dying!" and use "Kasserine" as a search term on YouTube for relevant videos.)

In Egypt there was a Google executive, Wael Ghonim, who organized protests and then disappeared for eleven days (with a final Tweet about preparing for death) before he reappeared in public triumphant at the downfall of his captors. Ghonim had become famous for creating the "We Are all Khaled Said" Facebook page, which commemorated a young man who was dragged from a cyber café and murdered for video recording corrupt, drug dealing police officers. A number of testimonies from witnesses were posted on YouTube after his death, which contested the official story of supposed accidental suffocation caused by Said from hiding drugs from authorities. Now Said's Facebook page shows a joyous illustration of patriotic celebration rather than the profile picture of the murdered witness journalist.

In thinking about "Hacktivism and the Humanities" in another project, I've also been thinking about how the digital humanities sometimes is willing to reorient itself in relationship to political change in rethinking its role of cultural preservation. For example, the Hypercities project, which documented election protests in Tehran and the otherwise ephemeral expressions from social media that accompanied them now has a somewhat similar Egypt Hypercities page.

For more on the Egypt situation, see the full rundown from David Parry which includes his postings on the subject at Profound Heterogeneity, background, what he calls "a useful framework," two postings (1, 2) from Zeynep Tufekci, two postings (1, 2) from Jillian York, explanations on how the Internet was shut down from Wired and OpenNet, and reflections from Ramesh Srinivasan.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home