I’m likely to be conversing with you today in regards to the role of the Web in political activism. So I spent time with these activists and asked them whether or not they certainly were using social media marketing, whether or not they certainly were engaging with the Web, and why they may be doing it.
Going out to the field and talking with political activists is important, since it provides you with an insight within their ideology, their motivations, and why they think it’s important to make use of certain Web technologies.
In order to go and speak to these activists, I wanted a way of research that combined computer science and social science. And that’s where Web science came in.
I’ve a background in international relations, so I knew about political ideology the theory is that and doing an MSc in Web science, and knowing about networks and organisation online was really essential for me.
So with this in your mind, I turned up in London, ready to observe how these political activists were using the Web for his or her protests. And what I found was that, broadly now, in 2013, there appears to be a lot of apathy, or even outright hostility, towards the Web and social media.
The key reason? The NSA.
The story had just broken that large American online corporations, like Facebook, Twitter, and Google, were cooperating with the NSA and collecting plenty of personal data about citizens from not merely America, but all over the activist site world. This was something which had kind of been known beforehand, however, not to the scale. And it put lots of these activists off engaging with your mainstream websites and these mainstream social networking services, because they saw them now as part of the establishment.
If you look back towards the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring, these technologies were technologies of liberation for most people. But now, only couple of years later, they have become technologies that symbolise surveillance by their state, the increased loss of privacy by individuals, and the general ability for both corporations and governments to keep citizens in line and stop such protests.
Discovering this was extremely very important to both my research, but in addition for Web science. Because I think it showed how it is vital to consider both the social and the technical areas of the Web together.
The Web is this thing, which will be computers, but additionally humans. It’s humans influencing technology, and technology influencing humans. And if that you don’t look at how one affects the other, it’s very hard to express for several how society will be changed and developed.