Clay Shirky: Why Would We Think Social Media Is Revolutionary?

The conversation around social media and political action has been roughly divided into idealists ("Social tools help people collaborate in general, so they will help insurgents in particular") and the realists ("It's never happened in an autocracy, but it's failed many times.") That conversation changed on January 14th, when Tunisian insurgents used those tools to help coordinate the ouster of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. That and subsequent events in the region make the idealist position more realistic, and the realist position less so. Given that change, what can we understand about the effects social media did and didn't have in the pro-democratic uprisings, and what, if anything, can we do to help?

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