ICT are great, but…

No doubt  ICT can play a crucial role for spreading information, mobilizing people and coordinating protest, an in that sense be an important tool in democratic processes. The Arab Spring gives an impressive example of the potential of crowdsourced information media. And even long before the spread of blogs, Twitter, FB and smartphones, in 1999, mobile phone communication the protests during the WTO summit in Seattle made an important difference for coordination of the protesters.

So where’s the ‚but‚?

As I read yesterday during a net politics workshop given at the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation in Berlin, some people might argue that at the end of the day, the effectiveness of protest campaigns boils down to strong offline ties between people or that the possibilities ICT offer are overrated since repressive regimes can just as well turn them into a tool working against the protesters.

In the above mentioned examples, however, it is first of all protests, i.e. the agents are people who have a common antagonist. Therefore, ICT might be of great help in repressive regimes, BUT in the absence of a common antagonist, differences and conflicts between groups within the crowd might take over, leading to a distorted representation of knowledge, information, or to biased ways of aggregating opinions.  My trust in the German Wikipedia was unsettled recently when I stumbled over the ongoing discussions in the community on censorship, where antifeminist tendencies seem to emerge and spread. I tend to forget the people (87% male) who are behind the scenes and who create this huge knowledge base, and who, as in this case, might transform a point of view of a few (sexist?) persons into the mainstream dominating opinion.

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