"Netroots Rising," Tunisia Version?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I've been watching the events in Tunisia with great fascination for a number of reasons: 1) because I studied the Middle East in graduate school; 2) because I'm always happy to see corrupt, oppressive, slimy regimes like this one - and many others in the world - fall, especially to "people power"; and 3) I'm fascinated with what role, if any, social/new media played in this case, and in other cases around the world, in undermining authoritarian regimes.On the latter question, there's been a good amount of academic work done, in particular by the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Back in 2009, Nate Wilcox and I had a chance to speak at Stanford, in the context of publication of our book, "Netroots Rising: How a Citizen Army of Bloggers and Online Activists is Changing American Politics," and to speak with some of the leaders in the "liberation technology" program. The question that came up then, as well as now, is whether that "citizen army" - and, more broadly, the citizens "armed" with a variety of social media tools -- Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, WikiLeaks, ubiquitous video recording and photographic technology, etc. -- is not just changing American politics, but politics in Tunisia and elsewhere around the world as well?
According to the Stanford Liberation Technology program:
The last few years have seen explosive growth in the use of information technology to defend human rights, improve governance, fight corruption, deter electoral fraud, expose government wrongdoing, empower the poor, promote economic development, protect the environment, educate consumers, improve public health, and pursue a variety of other social goods.  Lying at the intersection of social science, computer science, and engineering, the Program on Liberation Technology seeks to understand how (and to what extent) various information technologies and their applications -- including mobile phones, text messaging (SMS), the Internet, blogging, GPS, and other forms of digital technology -- are enabling citizens to advance freedom, development, social justice, and the rule of law.
Specifically, what I'm wondering is whether we just saw an example of "liberation technology" -- or one could say "Netroots Rising" -- at work in Tunisia?  Here's what the New York Times had to say: