#Democracy on Fire: Twitter, Social Movements, and the Future of Dissent
Articles,  Blog

#Democracy on Fire: Twitter, Social Movements, and the Future of Dissent


– Welcome, everybody. I’m very, very excited about this panel. We’ve been thinking about
this for a long time now, and it was kind of prompted
by the fact that Zeynep came here last year and
gave an amazing talk, which Marshall was at as
well, and all I could think to myself was we need to
have this talk in the Forum. And so ever since then,
we’ve been strategizing to get you to come back. We have with us three people
who’ve been thinking about social movements and practitioners. So many of you know Marshall
Ganz, of course teaches on social movements here
at the Kennedy School, one of the most sought-after
classes to be in. Wael actually was involved
in the movement in Egypt and was kind of a real
practitioner in using these tools for thinking about these types, and then Zeynep, as most
people in the room know, has written a book recently
which we sent around some Coles Notes to
bring people up to speed, called Twitter and Tear
Gas, that has some very deep thinking on this,
and so I thought we would bring these people together
to talk a little bit about how is social media
impacting social movements, and how is it impacting
our ability as a community, and as citizens, to
push for and make change to the governments and the
communities that we live in? I believe that one of the
most important abilities that the citizen has is the
capacity and the ability to express dissent. And I think one of the things
that I am concerned about is, is technology limiting our
ability to express dissent? Because if it is, then
it’s having an impact on our capacity to express ourselves
and work in a democracy. So in pursuit of that, I’ve
asked each of our speakers to say a few words, and
then we’re gonna have some back and forth, and then
we’re gonna open up the floor to questions. So I thought we’d start,
maybe, with Marshall, who as a practitioner,
as a lecturer, has deep experience in social
movements, to provide us with maybe a little bit
of context to kick us off. So Marshall, please. – Yeah, thanks, David. Whoa, whoa, that’s loud. Good afternoon. – [Audience] Good afternoon. – Yeah, just checking, just
making sure you’re out there, you’re awake. Yeah, Dave first asked me
would I talk about the history of social movements, I
wasn’t sure whether to start with the Exodus or maybe
the Protestant Reformation. But instead, what I’m
opting for is a context within which I’m more familiar. Since the founding of this
country, social movements have been an ongoing,
if episodic source of accountability, renewal and change. Since the American Revolution
itself, organized by the Sons of Liberty, movements
for temperance, abolition, suffrage, agrarian reform,
labor reform, racial reform, gender reform, environmental
reform, and yes, conservative reform or un-reform have been
driven by social movements. They begin as insurgents. They influence parties, and
they shape public policy. When they broaden equality,
they strengthen democracy. When they try to narrow
equality, they weaken democracy. Now, social movements,
successful social movements, effective social movements,
emerge from the efforts of purposeful actors,
individuals, organizations, to respond to changes, to
conditions they experience as unjust, and to
opportunities so as to assert new public values, form
new relationships rooted in those values, and
mobilize political, economic, and cultural power to
translate those values into action. They differ from fashion
styles or fads in that they are collective, strategic and organized. They differ from interest
groups in that they’re not only about how the goodies
get divided, they’re about what a ‘good’ really is. And they aspire to not
only play within the rules, but change the rules. Now what social movements
are not are marketing rooted in exchange,
transactional relationships, leaving people unchanged,
building no capacity. Movements are based or
rooted in relationships, in transformational
change, and the building of capacity in the form
of collective power. They’re also not mobilizing. Although mobilizing is an
element in social movements, social movements need to
not only deploy resources, but actually build them. Build capacity, not only deploy it. Effective social movements
also structure their efforts, historically have structured their efforts in particular ways. Often they combine local
action with regional or national, or even
international strategy and structure. The Civil Rights Movement was
very effective in the South, but it depended on leveraging
power in the North as well, just as in South Africa,
and in other places. This capacity for combining
local and trans local strategy turns out to be a very important piece. They also figure out how
to make use of the scarcest resource we have, which
is time, by structuring their activities in the form of campaigns, or what Stephen J. Gould
calls time is an arrow– Intense energy focus in
order to counter the inertia of continuity with the power of change. Now at the heart of social
movements is leadership. That is, people who are actually
accepting responsibility for enabling others to achieve
the shared purpose that the social movement is all about. People who focus on the
question of who the people are, what their challenges are,
and how they can use their resources to meet those challenges. Now, there’s five ways
that this often plays out. The first is building
relationships of shared commitment to common purpose. Now, the purpose of
association is different than aggregation. In other words, aggregating
a lot of individual voices is very different than
bringing people into relationship with one another
so that they can learn where their common interests lie, so they can develop the
affective connections that enable solidarity,
and so that they can develop the forms of
interdependence that lead to power. Aggregating individual
voices does not do that. And so the relational
foundation is critical, because relationships
have the potential for transformation because
of the three elements I just mentioned. Second is social movements
tell a new story. They motivate engagement both
internally and externally by articulating shared
values and the challenges to those values in the form of narrative. Narrative’s a fundamental
way in which we construct our individual, communal,
and social identities. And at the heart of
narrative, are the values it teaches that we can access
for the emotional resources to respond to challenges
with courage as opposed to reacting to them with fear. They’re fundamental to
social movements in which, on the one hand, the project
is one of reasserting, redefining, expressing
forms of self-understanding that express dignity,
self-respect and agency in new ways, and at the
same time, expressing the values of the movement in
such a way that can make it understandable, not only to
those within the movement, but to those who are
deciding whether or not to support the movement. Third, translating
shared values into action requires strategizing. Strategizing to build
the economic, cultural, and political power necessary. The art of strategy, turning
what you have into what you need to get what you want,
comes in different forms. In the Civil Rights Movement,
for example, they discovered in Montgomery, Alabama,
the bus boycott that began the Civil Rights Movement,
that feet could be a resource that could be turned into
economic and political power if people use their feet
to walk to work instead of riding the bus, but
did it collectively, rather than as individuals. The environmental movement
in the 1970s found that targeting a dirty dozen
of 12 congresspeople opposed to environmental
change could also be a strategy that could be
useful in that context. Strategy is more than
one tactic after another, but an underlying theory
of change as to how tactics need to be deployed to build power. It can generate tactics,
then, that are the result neither of habit, what we
always do, or reaction– they do something, so we react. Being strategic is the place in between. It’s the place that also can
combine intimate knowledge of what’s happening on the
ground with the overview from the top of the
mountain, so that you’re able to combine the overall
perspective with the intimate knowledge of context, that
enables you to operate from a strategic way. Strategizing is critical
for social movements because they’re usually in the position
of David fighting Goliath and have to figure out how
to compensate for resources they don’t have with
greater resourcefulness. Fourth, organizational structure
that enables strategizing, coordination, follow
through, and decision making. Social movements often are
in reaction to what they experience as oppressive structure. So there is a real appeal
to structurelessness. You know, had enough of that. So very often then the
response is we don’t need any of that. Now feminists like sociologist
Jo Freeman wrote a classic piece in 1972 that she
called The Tyranny of Structurelessness, the
illusion that when human beings get together, they’re not
gonna form structures, either below the surface,
non-visible and opaque, or visible, transparent and accountable. And what happens in a lot
of settings where people say we don’t want any structure,
what they’ve got is an opaque, unaccountable,
faction-ridden structurelessness that actually inhibits the
capacity to strategize, to coordinate, and do the rest. So coming up with a way
to structure organization. Finally, action must not only
be strategic, not reactive, but to the extent possible,
measurable and specific, so movement leadership
and movement participants can learn from what’s
happening, can both exercise accountability and be able
to discover what tactics work, what tactics don’t work. This one did that, this one did…. And if we don’t have
ways of learning from the tactics that we deploy
how to become better deployers of tactics,
then we get stuck just repeating ourselves over and over again. At the core of getting
to scale, then, in social movements historically, it has
been leadership development. The way to get to scale has
been leadership developing other leadership developing
other leadership, and in that way, creating
the sinews that empower a social movement from top to bottom. So it isn’t going to scale
by one dot connecting to a million individuals,
it’s by the development of a cascade of leadership
empowering a million individuals to act purposefully and
act with intentionality. Just for example, the leaders
of the pro gun movement, the NRA, with their four million
members, have 14,000 local clubs, governed by 140,000
local leaders, or one out of every 25 members. So if we think the NRA is
just about money, forget it. The NRA has a deep, rich
leadership structure out there that is capable of mobilizing
at the local level, the state level, and the
national level, with strategy, intent, and purpose. The question for me is
how the development of digital technology can
enhance building this kind of collective capacity
that I’ve been describing, which is at the heart of
what the practice of politics is really about, instead
of replacing it with individual transactions, turning
politics into yet another marketplace in which resources
are allocated in favor of those who have more
resources in the first place. (audience applauds) – Wael, you’ve lived through
a social movement that was fairly profound and had a big impact. Do you want to share a little
bit about your experience and maybe kind of relay
where you feel things are at, and where you worry that
they’re going, or where you’re hoping that they’re going? – Yeah, so thanks for
organizing this and I actually because I’m spending
time here this semester, I know that those of you who are students, you gave up free alcohol
to attend, so that’s really dear to my heart. (audience laughing) We’re gonna try and make up for it. So I’m a technologist. I worked for Google for many
years, and I had this very optimistic, euphoric view of technology. The first time I went
online, it was mind-boggling, opening the world and
being able to connect with people when I was 16, 17. And at that time, I was
really impressed by how the sky is the limit, there
is no more reach limits, and how could I reach to people. And throughout my career
I only worked on internet companies and I happened
to be in the middle of a movement that was part by
what I call now a group of outsiders: people who
are middle class in Egypt, who were not part of
the system that has been established for over 60
years, military-based system, and we just realized
that this is not the life that we deserve. We deserve a better life,
and one great thing about the internet, as Professor
Marshall is talking about, all what he’s discussing is
available online, but with the multiplication of scale. So the most amazing
experiences I’ve been online has to do a lot with the ability to reach. You could actually reach
hundreds of thousands, millions of people,
depending on your message. Or the access. You could access many people
that you would not think you have ability to access,
just because of the fact that they are one email away. Whether they respond or not,
that’s a different story. But you could try and get
their attention in a way that was not available before. And what was most inspiring
for me, personally, is what I call the collective wisdom. The ability of crowd
sourcing ideas and building on top of each other
and to a large extent, this is my journey with
my experience of activism. I did not view myself as someone
that’s telling people what they should be doing. In fact, I was not doing that. What I was doing is like I was
acting as a good moderator. I would get ideas from
different places and put them out there and people
build on top of the ideas. And that was the role I
thought was the most effective for myself during the time. And finally, there’s
something that’s happening right now, for example,
the #metoo campaign, that has been consistently
happening in the past. The fact that they say
revolutions are stated opinions. Once an opinion is being
stated, and stated strongly, it drives more people to
be courageous and move on. So this collective courage
that takes place when voices that are depressed or oppressed, who are scared to speak
up, start speaking up, it has a fundamental change
into the power structure. This is all good, and that
was my view, and continues to be my view, but now I
realize that I was kind of naive in thinking this
was just the full story. The full story has a dark side to it. That dark side has to do
with the fact that all what I said could be
actually used for bad. And the bad news, that from
an economic point of view, it’s cheaper to use it
for bad than to use it for good. So all the discussion
about misinformation or propaganda spreading,
or how governments could use these technologies for
surveillance, these are all– or even the companies
themselves, the amount of power. Unquestionable, unaccountable
power that the companies have. All these are very
important issues to put into consideration when you
paint a picture here. And I kind of like look back
now and say how naive I was, like yeah, technology is just the tool. It could be used for good or for bad, and I saw the two sides of it. The question here is not, is this evil? And that’s kind of something
that somehow irritates me when I read stories about technology. It’s like read the 2011
stories, it’s the most painted beautiful picture of what
Silicon Valley’s bringing democracy to poor Egyptians
or other parts of the world. And the story today,
it’s the global dystopia, the world is gonna, is
all under this force that no one could deal with anymore
and democracy is at danger. And I think the truth lies between both. We, as humans, our job
is to do the best to empower the good and
reduce the bad, and we’re probably gonna talk more
about this, but the key point I feel the internet has
provided me was not just a voice, because I don’t
think commenting in itself drives change, it was
actually, it gave me a tool to connect with a large
group of people who are like minded, who are
willing to work collectively into fighting for a cause
and paying whatever price it takes for it. – Zeynep, you’ve just
written a book that’s looking at how social movements
have used technology. Do you want to talk to
us a little bit about what you’ve discovered and
some of the concerns you have? – Okay, so my main question
was, on the one hand, so much has changed. I grew up in Turkey under
the military coup regime of 1980, and you know how
they say the Inuit allegedly have lots of words for snow? Well, in Turkey, we have
lots of words for coup. Because we have lots of different coups. (audience laughing) And the one I grew up
under was a particularly hard one in 1980, and there
was very heavy censorship. And my background, I started
as a technical person, too. I started as a programmer
and then I switched to social science. My background allowed me
to get a peek into the sort of the internet
when it was very early. And I thought surely they can’t
censor anymore, effectively. And I don’t think I was wrong about that, but it turned out to be a
really complicated story, as Wael was talking about. And my question was, well if
we can do all these things why is there this wave of
boom/bust, boom/bust, boom/bust in social movements? And if you start looking
at it, the first one I kind of tried to study
was the Zapatistas and the Solidarity Movement, late
’90s, as I caught the tail end of it, and that was
just the very early more Solidarity Network. But then there was the,
starting with ’99 in Seattle, there was a big group of
people that came together to try to bring light to the
we20 protest, and there was a lot of email already going on. It just took everybody by
surprise that tens of thousands of people would show
up to a trade meeting. And then there was the
anti-war movement after 9/11, and there was a bunch of
other movements, Occupy. And you just kept seeing
this boom/bust cycle. They would scale up very
big, but wouldn’t have the proportionate impact you’d think. And I have this very clear
memory of marching in 2003 before the Iraq war in
New York, because I partly study these things and
I partly participate, and I’m short, I climbed
on top of something to see the march. That’s what I do, I just
want to see, how big is this? And it was this huge
march, and I knew it was a global march, and I knew at
the time it was the biggest march ever in history. And I thought surely
they can’t ignore this. Surely, we came together, here
we are, this is a bad idea, you know, not that we’re
friends of Saddam Hussein, but it’s not a great
idea to do it this way. And then that week, then
President George W. Bush said, “Why should I take a
focus group seriously?” So he referred to the biggest
protest ever in history as a focus group, and
I was really offended. I was like, why are we marching? But you know what? He had a point. They went on, he didn’t
pay any electoral price. We were right, the war was a disaster. The impacts are still
reverberating in the Middle East, but there was no leverage
in that march that threatened things he cared
about, like his electoral power. It really got me thinking about how do social movements change…. So as Marshall was talking
about, and as Wael was talking about, there’s
the cultural capacity. You change the conversation. You change culture, and
you change people’s mind. Now that’s a very powerful thing. And sometimes people
talk about slacktivism. I hate that term. Changing people’s minds is
the bedrock of social change. But obviously it’s not all there is to it. There’s also disruptive capacity. The Montgomery Bus Boycott. You stop and you collectively
resist the way things are. Bu there’s one more thing
going on, which is you see in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. So go back to the ’50s and
you are the African American population, imagine, of
a city like that with the white power structure. How do you even get the
word out that you’re going to start the boycott? Because they picked the day to start. Rosa Parks was not the
first person to get arrested for refusing to go to the back of the bus. There were people before. But for a bunch of reasons,
they hadn’t decided to go then, and with Rosa
Parks, they asked her. Because once you become the
face of resistance like that, it’s a threat to her
life, not to put too fine a point on it. She thought about it, she
said yes, they’re gonna launch the movement. How do you even get the word out? Like, you can’t just go
tweet Jan 25, you’re not gonna be able to do this. Well, they had, what’s the correct number? I think they had 68
organizations that criss-crossed the city. They had this very deep
organizational network. And they had been working
together for years. So that’s what they used to get it out. Now, we would just use Twitter. Now, not bad, right? Occupy. Biggest march ever. Women’s March, biggest march ever. Do you see a pattern? We keep being able to very
quickly organize the biggest march ever. So here’s one thing I argue in
my book, is that social media has given us the means
to scale up really fast without the organizational
infrastructure behind it. – That’s right. – Now on the one hand,
this is not a bad thing. You know, I’m a former
technologist, it’s great. I’m not saying there’s
some magic in going and mimeographing things. But it turns out, and
Marshall’s talking about this a lot, working together
over time and building those durable relationships builds
all sorts of other capacities you need if you’re actually
going to threaten power. So what happens to our social
movements that go like this, not all of them go like this,
they go from zero to 100 miles very fast. Women’s March, one post, Facebook
post, three months later, biggest march ever in the U.S. So you’ve scaled up very
quickly, and you’re entering your first curve very
fast, and you haven’t built a steering wheel. Now in Silicon Valley, this
works, because you scale up really fast and Facebook buys you. (audience laughing) If you’re a social movement,
there’s a government coming for you, there are powerful
people coming for you. So if you don’t have
that steering wheel…. And our steering wheel,
people use Facebook a lot to make these decisions,
because that’s just the way our public sphere has gone. And Facebook’s business model
is to collate and gather our attention, which is
the most scarce commodity. Right now, speech is not
the scarce commodity, we can speak. It’s attention that’s
regulated because that’s the scarce commodity. In other words, time. Attention and time are very integral. So you’ve got this platform
who sells your attention and whose goal is to
keep you there forever. As much as possible. Maybe not forever, but the
whole thing is optimized algorithmically to keep you there. Now, see, I’m faculty. We have meetings. I don’t know about you,
but when I’m in a meeting, the first thing I think about
is when is this gonna end? That’s my first thought. It’s started, when is this gonna end. (audience laughing) Sorry, it’s the truth. So with Facebook, we’re
holding our meetings in a place optimized to keep us there. Whereas what you want is
an optimization to reach collective decision making. So right now, when we use
the private platforms to gather the cultural word
out, which we should. That’s where the people
are, you’re gonna go there and get the cultural word
out, you’re gonna shape the narrative, great,
but you’re also using it for strategic decision
making, you’re having it for conversation, and the
platform is actually optimized for that to be counter-productive for you. Because maximizing attention
means, how do you get attention, especially if a
movement is structurelessness because you scaled up
so fast, you didn’t need the steering wheel, what
happens is people want to have conversations, they
don’t know how to have these conversations, ’cause
you don’t have a structure for it, so they start
turning to people who’ve emerged as leaders with high
media social media followers, and they attack them. And this has happened to
anybody who’s been at the forefront of a social
movement in the 21st Century, is that they’re not even
trying to attack the person as much as there’s a need
for this conversation and no channel for it. Again, no steering wheel. So I sometimes liken it
to climbing Mt. Everest, with the help of sherpas. The digital technology is our sherpa. It’s carrying our oxygen tanks,
it’s carrying our luggage, it’s carrying lots of things, fine. You get to the top of the mountain. But the mountain is still the mountain. The moment something
goes wrong, the fact that you don’t have mountaineering
skills, and somebody carried your oxygen for
you–the internet carries your oxygen for you–means
that you don’t have the crucial movement skills. So the Montgomery Bus Boycott
to the Civil Rights March, there’s a decade there. And by the time they held
the march, that march didn’t just represent the march. That march represented 10
years of a movement that would not give up, that was
strategic, that organized, that mobilized people, that
had cross-racial alliances. Even the march itself was
very difficult to hold. No Excel spreadsheets. And it’s not a joke, they
took months to organize that. And they marched in a
city where they had to get everybody out the same day
because you could not have hundreds of thousands of people
march for racial equality, stay the night in D.C. and
not have anybody killed. They had to get everybody
in and get everybody out. They even made sure there was
no mayo in the sandwiches, so there was no food sickness. They couldn’t trust the hospitals. That level of organization
is not just the march. It threatens power,
because if you can do this, you can do lots of other things. Whereas if you’re organizing
with a Facebook post and scaling up, you can post on Facebook. It doesn’t threaten them. It threatens to change
the cultural narrative, which is important, and long
term, something significant, but it doesn’t have the
same, either the disruptive capacity, the strategic
capacity, the electoral capacity, all the other things that the
people in power care about. So kind of, I know we’re gonna
do a Q&A, when people ask me this question all the
time, what do you recommend to analyze things? I think it’s partly being
from the Middle East, whenever I see something, the
first thing I think about– well I think two things–the
first one is how are the people in power gonna use this? And it’s usually not
a great answer, right? There’s all these ways
in which, for example, because attention is
scarce, misinformation and distraction can be
used to muddy the waters. So that’s the first thing. The second thing is, what
are they afraid of if you do? And at the moment, there’s
I think for months there were more and more marches
in my Facebook feed. People were constantly organizing marches. That’s a tactical freeze. Because the movement has no steering wheel and no tactical ability to
change from tactic to tactic, which the Civil Rights Movement had to do, what is happening is, people
are repeating the last thing they did. They keep trying to go
back to Tahrir Square. They keep trying to go back
to whatever they did last, because there’s no decision
making strategic capacity. And I’m pretty certain
that the people in power– it annoys you-know-who
when marches are bigger than the inauguration, it annoys him. Fine, so you get the annoyance factor. But other than that I don’t
think there’s a single congressperson who is
afraid of another march, however large that may be. Not because I have
anything against marches, I’ve marched my whole life. I mean, my publicity
photos are me with helmets because tear gas canisters can injure you. Most of my pictures are
taken at various marches and protests, that’s where
I’ve been my whole life. There’s nothing wrong
with them, but they… In the past, you had to
organize to hold a march. Now you can hold a march
and then you’re trying to organize. You’re exposed to power
coming at you because digital technology puts
you on the spotlight in some way before you’re ready. So my question is, how do you
do this in the 21st century? We’re not gonna go back to the mimeograph, that would be silly. We’re not gonna go back to the
old ways of making decisions, because the whole point
people march often is to participate and to have a
voice, so the leaderlessness is not just a convenience,
there’s a way in which people want to not be one
more cog in the machine. But we also need to
develop a way that fits our current moment, our current
politics, but can build that steering wheel and can sort
of figure out how do you genuinely threaten and have
leverage for social change beyond having these conversations. And how do you deal then with
the power of the platforms and attention economy and all of that. And that is sort of part of
what I’m thinking about a lot. – So I’d love to go back to
Wael, because you were part of a social movement that
was in some ways successful. It confronted power and it
held that power to account in a short term period that
actually produced a result, so you’ve kind of heard
Marshall talk about what you need in order to build muscle. And I think Zeynep has a
very interesting and nuanced critique about how new
tools don’t enable us to build that muscle as movements. Does that resonate with
you, or are you like, no, actually we had a
leadership structure, we were connected, or are you like no,
this does resonate with me? Talk to me a little bit
about your experience, and does this resonate with you? – I wish I knew them before 2011. I think that would have made… I feel like I’m Joe the
Plumber between the two. (audience laughing) I’m very intimidated by
their intellectual capacity. So I actually think what… I remember the first time
I met Marshall when I came to Harvard a few years ago,
and he talked to me about the concept of weak ties, and
I don’t know if you remember that, we were having
lunch, I think, together. And I think what the
internet did, as I said, was the scaling. And there is one thing that
doesn’t really scale well online, which is trust. Trust is very human-driven. In order for me to trust
any person, I really have to spend enough time with
them and go through certain experiences and tests in
order to build that trust. One of the weakest points
about the social movements that we have right now is
actually–that are emerging online–is the fact that
trust is very hard currency to obtain online. It almost reminds me of the
problem, I was trying to convince a bunch of
Uber drivers to organize against the company in a
way that where they demand shares, because they deserve
it like anyone who works full time for Uber for many
years now deserve to have certain equity, because
they will be soon replaced by self-driving cars. And one of the problems
all of them talk about is they don’t know each other. They have no way to trust each other. And therefore they cannot organize. It’s not like the labor
world of 50 years ago, where people are just
spending hours and hours together building that trust. And I realized this actually after… For context, I did all
my activism anonymously. People did not know who
I was, which was pretty empowering in many ways,
but the most important aspect of it, I found it
was easier to build trust that way. I didn’t mean it, but it
was easier, because people did not feel like I had
the prima donna–I was not seeking attention and
trying to take that movement into a way to build my own follow base. There was no follow
base, there was no one. The page was what was
getting all the attention. So I think the challenge of
trust is something I think a lot about right now, and
I think it is very important as we build social
movements is not to think of technology as a way to
replace the norms, it’s more of an aid, like how could we… Now we can create a Facebook
group and then things are gonna be great from there. We’re gonna be able to build a movement. No. Technologies facilitate
communications, help us get together, improve the
communication, but it’s not a replacement of an actual
on-the-ground movement. The other challenge I think
a lot about now is the, which goes back to the
attention economy, we are all human beings and we all
want to feel good about ourselves, we all want
power in a way or another, whatever that power is. One of the problems of the
attention economy is that, unfortunately, you are
incentivized for the very short-term instantaneous power. I’ve seen so many examples
of people that start with really good intentions, they
really believe in the cause, and it eventually moves from
the cause into themselves. Like how could I build more followers? The temptations of being
agreeable, and you know, I thought during, right
after the revolution time it was actually very hard
for me to say my opinions on Twitter because
whatever the Twitter mob. And that problem is very
structural when it comes to social media, because the
companies are not incentivized to solve the problem. In fact, solving that problem
might be against their business interest. And that’s why I used to
think that the algorithms that operate, which I
actually was part of teams building such tools, were
democratic, because yeah, it’s based on engagement. If you like it then more
people are gonna see it. If you don’t like it, less
people are gonna see it. But I grew into thinking
that these are actually mobocratic algorithms because
most of us–from mobocracy, or the rule of the
mobs–because most of us, as human species, like the idea of system. One, we are very emotional
creatures and when the tools are all about agreeing, the
more you are polarizing, the more you are sensational,
the more you are against the other, the more likely
you are going to get your group to celebrate
and salute you and think you are a person that
is worthy of attention. And then the algorithms
are just gonna give you all the distribution you want. What are you gonna do next? You’re gonna be more polarizing, because that’s how it works. So I think those two
notions, like the notion of building trust is a real challenge. And the other notion is more
structural and even harder because it has to do with these platforms, which we ended up using as
most of us have allowed it to lure us and take our
time, and we use it as our official means of
communications right now. And that’s a harder problem. Zeynep wrote a lot about this
in the past, and I’ve been really an admirer of
her work in that area, because she was one of
the early whistle blowers. So I guess I wish I would just
paint a very good picture. I still see and realize the
value of the internet every day in my life, and in the
life of people, but I now put it at its place. It’s just a tool. – Marshall, so one of the
things I love that Zeynep talks about, you do, too,
like building muscle. And that the real risk of the online space is that you get these
results without building the muscle, the capacity of
the organization, and that doesn’t allow you to
then make an adjustment. I’m kind of curious,
you’ve been doing social movement building for a
long time, is there anything you’re seeing around, and
you have students around the world, are you seeing
them use technology in a way that kind of begins to
answer Zeynep’s question? Is anybody using technology
in a way that is enabling movements to build muscle? – Yeah, I’m looking for that. I think there’s a whole lot of potential, ranging from the resistance
school, the Kennedy students organized here, to offer
instruction, but actually very interactive instruction,
to this coming weekend Indivisible is having its
first big training in Arizona that we’re involved with that. And it’s interesting because
what they did different in terms of the response
to Trump was they didn’t organize a march. What they did was mobilize people locally. And they said get with other
people locally and then go after your local representative,
which was guaranteed to produce a reaction, so
there’s efficacy there, and it’s part of a national
deal where you could see on the map where you were,
and there’s like two in every congressional district. And so they wisely facilitated
the creation of some 6,000, 7,000 local groups. Now the challenge there
is to now create the kind of structure and coherence
from that, in order to bring strategic focus to it. You know, digital tools can
be so helpful in terms of facilitation communication,
in terms of providing coaching and training and support. I mean I’ve been doing my
distance learning class for six years here, and it’s on WebX. I love it because we can
bring people from all around the world to see each
other, and connect with each other. The seeing, to me, was transformational. Just like on a conference
call, it’s like a black hole. But when you can see
other people, you can form relationships and you can
build a community of practice based on mutual commitments. You can actually do that
work through interaction, and that’s what we do every spring. And so we get to work with
people all over the world in that way. Now that would have
been utterly impossible. I think we have to think
more creatively about how to support the development of what
I call collective capacity, rather than going for the
quick hit, which then just turns out not to be there. So I think that’s where
there needs to be a lot of learning and experimentation. I hope Indivisible will do it. I hope other groups are doing it. I know a lot of people
are talking about it. But yeah, I think it’s
gotta come out of practice, and out of recognition of
the limitations of what has been going on. – I just want to say one
quick note, that one thing we should realize that
everything is happening right now at a super fast pace. We talk about technology as
if it existed for 50 years. The reality is, we’re talking
about platforms that are less than 10 years old. So we should be in peace
with the fact that things are evolving. And I take an optimistic
view that by addressing these problems and talking
about them and trying to find solutions, we are
gonna see a better outcome, hopefully, in the future. – The metaphor that you
used when I last spoke with you, you talked about
social movements almost as being like gazelles. Like the gazelles jump in
the forest, or they jump in the field. And how high they jump
scares their hunters, look how high I can
jump, you don’t want to come chasing me. So a big march, like the
example you talked about, the organizing in D.C.,
was an example of like the African American community,
we can jump high, we can mobilize, governments be scared. Early on, like I think in
Egypt, governments didn’t know that a big march didn’t
mean that there was big organization, and so they
were kind of more scared. Governments have learnt now that actually, when you jump high, there’s
not a lot of muscle there, that’s a false signal. – That’s right. – And so now they’ve kind
of learned to not worry about that. – Right. – What do we need to learn
now to re-scare them? What’s the next
iteration–how do we turn now? What’s next for us? – That’s exactly what I write about. So one of the co-founders
of Indivisible just was very kind, he picked my book
as his book of the year, because that’s exactly
what we were talking about. And I’m not plugging my
book, because it’s available for free, if you go to my
website, it’s creative comments. So I’ve just fessed that up. Because that’s the whole
point, was to think about exactly what the Indivisible
people are thinking about, like, how do you take this
and do something else? Let me give an example to make this clear. Most people don’t think of
the Tea Party movement a lot, but they should, because
it’s a very good example of a movement that took marches,
protests, digital tools, and turned it into one of
the most effective political movements in the United
States in recent history. And this is where it
comes to what to learn, and also the difference
between right and left, and I’ll come back to Indivisible. So when the Tea Party
protests started, it was a tax day protest, right, 2009. And they had a protest countrywide in all sorts of, everywhere. Some places got rained
out, some places had sun. It’s a natural experiment. Could you hold your
protest or not was totally dependent on weather. And the places that held
their protests actually had really strong downstream
political effects. If they were able to get
together, they had the congressperson that was
representing them lean right. If they were incumbent
and not Tea Party form, they were more likely to retire. You can measure this whole
thing because of this natural experiment. But what they did, was
after they got together and used the digital tools,
and they used all the digital tools, too, they
were laser focused on electoral leverage. That doesn’t mean electoral
leverage is the only thing or that sometimes it’s important, sometimes different
things, but in this case, it was important. And this is where the funding
between the right and the left plays, is that the right
in this country builds electoral infrastructure. The left and democrats do not. To give you a sense of the scale, the Tea Party movement
which started as a protest, got a lot of funding and strategic help. They arguably blocked
Barack Obama’s second term with their caucus. They were able to thwart the whole agenda. And if you look at their
demands, and if you look at the academic literature
on who they were, and if you look at the
Trump presidency, it’s a direct line. Most people think Tea Party
is fiscal conservatives. They were not. The academic research is
pretty clear they were Trumpian before there was a Trump. So there’s a clear… There’s a protest movement
right in front of our noses that did all of this. The thing they did different
was the local meetings, very strategic focus on electoral work, enormous amount of funding. In the right in 2016,
just the Koch Brothers, that’s just one big funder,
had funded the Tea Party down ballot, electoral
infrastructure, to the tune of one billion dollars almost. This is one family and that’s how much. Down ballot is electoral infrastructure. Now with all the bruhaha
after the election, the Resistance, the big
marches, all of that, when I spoke to Indivisible
people like three months ago, they had raised only
$2 million, 2 million, and most of it was from grassroots. There is no billionaire
on the left that’s funding electoral infrastructure anywhere near. Everybody will fund
501(c)3, this is a political culture difference. And plus the left is
ambivalent about the question of power, right? It comes from, politically,
a critique of power. So you have movements
like Occupy that have no idea how to engage power
structures, and you have funders that will never fund
electoral infrastructure. They will fund 501(c)3
as long as there are no elections–well, there
are elections eventually. Whereas the right wing has
been quite instrumental in how it uses the technology
to focus its strategy. Another example you want,
white supremacists in Europe. They have been organizing online. Everybody knows about the
alt-right now, but very ironically these white nationalists,
ethno-nationalists are very international. They’re all connected to one another. They’ve been organizing
online for a very long time, targeting first European
Parliament elections and now they’re a big
force in the continent. So there are actually
movements that have a different view of power, agree
or disagree with that, and also have been very
strategic and used these digital tools. The issue with the left
and the democrats is both political culture, the
funding culture, and the fact that there is usually this
delusion because a lot of tech people are on the
left on the democratic side, that these tools will always empower them. I’ve been having this argument since 2012, when I wrote an OpEd
for the New York Times arguing that the smart
campaign and big data campaign and algorithms might
have helped Obama win, but it wasn’t really good
for our public sphere. And everybody got mad at
me, because they were like you don’t like Obama. I said I’m not talking
about him, I’m talking about the tools. But the biggest argument
I got was the idea that the technology was
developed by Silicon Valley, that was more left than
libertarian, and it was science, and it would only help the democrats. And I’m like, you guys ever read history? That’s not how it works. That’s now how it ever works. So there’s this combination
that the tools will only help the democrats and the left, and this political culture
that leads to a very different outcome. I’m giving this example
to say that I think the technology structures a lot. I think it’s more than–I
wouldn’t say it’s just a tool in the sense that it has
some structuring power, but so do the people organizing around it. And there are very different
potential paths possible. And the reason they’re
not so visible to people tends to be because the
academy tends to lean left and liberal, so we tend to study movements that we’re closer to,
and don’t always notice very big and very successful
movements that are not as well represented in the academy. – Marshall? – Yeah, let me just put
another piece on the table. Not exactly to defend the
left, but to try to offer another piece of context,
which is that one of the big challenges is the fact that since 1976 and the Buckley v. Vallejo decision, U.S. Supreme Court, it
has become impossible to control campaign spending. And this makes the U.S.
unique in liberal democracies. All the efforts here are to try to control campaign contributions,
but when you try to control supply when demand is
infinite, all you do is raise the cost of the supply. And so we built an industry
here, unlike that in any other country, that in the last
election was about $9 billion, which has transformed
politics into marketing. It’s a marketing industry. And for this marketing
industry that markets politics, the digital tools are wonderful. They generate profit. You don’t make any money
off recruiting volunteers out there, come on. And so that has spilled
over into the whole world of advocacy, too, and so
it’s all about using… Like in D.C. now, it’s
sort of like which firm is going to do your outreach for you? Which firm is going to do
this, that, or the other? And so the capacity, there’s
a vested interest here and a huge gorilla that
has an interest in making organizing irrelevant. They don’t even need to
make it because they own the tools that everybody thinks they need. And so you show up, and
what are you gonna do about Trump? Well, we’re gonna do
our digital mobilization or whatever. You say wait, could we
have some organizers to go out and build power on the ground? Well, what’s that? And so that is a problem also of funders. The other thing not
understood so well about the Koch Brothers is that
they didn’t just give money, they built an
infrastructure, organizational infrastructure state by
state, they invested in leadership, leadership
development, and they were not fools about the significance
of organized effort. So this is sort of what
my big question is, how to reassert the need, when
on the one side there’s the advocacy mobilizing,
and then there’s the political marketing over here. You say well wait a second,
unless we do something to empower people, then the deal’s gone. That’s why Indivisible is so interesting, because there seems to be a
possibility of constructing something there that is locally grounded, that actually could enhance
the power of people. And there may well be
other groups like that. – I’m surprised this panel
is more optimistic than I thought it was going to be. – I can change that if
you want (laughing). – I know, I have every
confidence you could. In part because I feel like you’re saying, so we have these tools,
what we need to figure out now is how we build
capacity around them. It’s kind of like the soft
skills and the organization skills around this new tool
set is what we need to be figuring out. – Yeah, but it’s not like
it’s an open field out there. There are vested interests
in sustaining this whole approach, that are making
a lot of money from it. If they get a guy running
for office, some candidate, a good guy wants to run,
a good person wants to run for office, and right away
they start turning ’em into a brand. They tell ’em how they
don’t need organization, how it’s all gonna be
marketed in this way or that. And then the money comes from
the D-triple-C or wherever, and it supports that. And then somebody says well
wait, why don’t we have an organizing campaign? What are you talking about? – So with that, we have a
few minutes to maybe go for some questions. So you’ll see there’s mics
here and there’s mics up on the second level there. When you ask a question,
please say who you are and any affiliation you have. And then please, I will cut
you off, keep the question very short and end it
with a question mark. So no big preambles, we
haven’t got a lot of time. So, you, sir, you were
very quick on the mark. So… – Yes, Hisham Adoui, I am a fellow at the Weatherhead Center here at Harvard and a DPhil candidate
at Oxford University. My question is as
follows, where does this– and it’s to any of you on the panel– where does this conversation
that you have had fit in the big narrative
that this is a structuralist approach versus an agency approach? In other words, can’t
an argument be made that part of the capacity
problem around internet or the anonymity problem
and the lack of trust around informal mobilization–the
lack of steering wheel, is in essence the absence
of structural facilitators to democratization, to mobilization? – So let’s stop there and
let’s do another question that way our panelists can be
efficient at answering them. Sir, do you want to ask a question? – Yeah, I want to preface
it with something. Tom Gardner, I was a mid-career
MPA in ’85, before that for years I was a reporter
in Montgomery, Alabama and interviewed a lot of the
people about the bus boycott. And the one word I did not
hear was faith communities and churches. And if you want to know
how they communicated to organize the bus boycott,
it was the churches. Joe Azbell put the piece out
in the Montgomery Advertiser with Edie Nixon interviewing
him to let other people know. Right now there is a
sanctuary movement going on in Amherst, Mass., where I
live now, and what’s been interesting is the way
that the churches were able to respond–they now have
someone in sanctuary in a church in Amherst, with all the threats from ICE, is that it took all
these long conversations in all these faith
communities and now the Jewish community, the congregational
church, they all come together to support
the sanctuary movement, which is now being
mobilized and communicated and informed over the internet. So everyone has their email,
everyone knows what we need to do, we need to sign
up for this, et cetera. So this is my question
to Marshall and others, is how do we push this? It’s really kind of
picking up on what you were talking about with Indivisible. They seem to be the most
interested in doing this toward 2018. How do we push this learning
how to go out and talk to people and organize people to people? – Okay, let’s run down,
two different questions, a structural issue or not,
and how do we push this? – Who wants to tackle
the structural issue? – I’m gonna be with Giddens, it’s both. To sort of–the thing is,
there is a structure out there. There is a structure, it’s
just not in its particular moment very conducive for the
movements we’re talking about to leveraging power. So I wouldn’t say there’s no structure. And just sort of to address
the faith communities, once again, this is something
that’s somewhat imbalanced in the United States in that
the civic infrastructure, especially on the democratic
side, has been hollowed out. Hedda Scotchbough makes his case. Whereas that is not
necessarily true on the right, and that is partly because
churches on the right continue to be very strong, both political and community institutions. The Baptist Church, the
Southern baptists, you go anywhere, I live in North
Carolina, you just drive around and they dot every
community, and they’re very powerful in organizing their
communities, but they’re on the republican side, mostly. The NRA, as you correctly
pointed out, everybody keeps like on Twitter tweeting
how much politicians got from NRA, I’m telling you it’s peanuts. That is rounding error. The congresspeople are
not afraid that the NRA is not gonna give them their $20,000. They’re afraid of their
constituents, because NRA has organized them on the
ground as a grassroots force. And it also gives money,
but the money you’re talking about is easily outraisable
if you look at the way money is raised in this country. THat’s not what’s going on. So there’s the NRA continues
to be part of the civic infrastructure. The Baptist churches and
other churches continue to be like that. There’s other institutions
like that on the right, whereas the ones that were
on the left, the black churches, they’re still
strong, and they are not really left, right, you understand. It’s the political divide here. Unions, gone. Right, that was a very
strong thing, they’re gone. A lot of things that came
organized around labor, the uberization of labor
is atomizing a lot of ways in which we organize labor
and we haven’t figured out how do you organize labor,
because that’s one of the most potent things. The Democratic Party in
general has become what Marshall is describing, in
that there’s a consultant class, they get a cut if you put ads on tv at the last minute. This is literally true. Ads at the last minute on tv,
there’s 30 years of research, they do nothing. They are just burning
money, but you get a cut. That’s literally how it works. You have a consultant and
they get a cut of the thing, whereas right now, I go
around the country, I talk to Indivisible people. In Darrell Issa’s district
they have 60 groups and not one paid organizer. Like there’s no way this
would happen on the right. Like if you had a vulnerable
democrat and 60 groups organizing to unseat him,
somebody would have funded a paid organizer. So even though there’s
this grassroots thing. I’m going around the
country, I talk to people, trying to do some of the
stuff you’re talking about, and place after place,
nobody’s funding candidacy on the democrat–I’m
telling you the Resistance may look big, it is hollow on the ground. There is an enormous grassroots energy. There’s enormous energy,
but it is only going to go far, and I think
Wael will agree with me, in that that moment ends. The grassroots energy wanes
because people can only do so many weekends and
so many evenings while working jobs and trying to organize. And there’s enormous–the
energy is there– the infrastructure building isn’t there. And you’re one year
away from the election. And I think it may well be
that the current president is particularly conducive
to being electorally defeated because of the way his competency seems to work and not work. But I’m from the Middle
East, there are competent versions of this. So even if there’s a
wave election, it will mask this weakness. It will be because the opponent is weak, it will not be because
the grassroot movement is that strong. And I feel like even if
that happens, there will be a competent version of
the political realignment he brought in, and that
one will be young and know what they’re doing. We just bumbled into this. We would have been here in 2020. The fact that people are so… This is what I’m sort of
talking about, if we don’t recognize this infrastructure hollowness, and there happens to be a
wave election because of the opponent weakness,
you’re gonna be right back where we were in 2020
with a competent version of this ethno-populism. And I’m from Turkey, the
competent version is a whole different game than
the one that people are facing right now. – I want to actually
address Hisham’s question. I think there’s–Francis
Fukuyama has a book called Political Order and Political Decay, I highly recommend reading. He talks about one of
the challenges that we’re living in in today’s
world is that our means of communication, we are changing so fast, and the nature of institutions is rigid. Like we are basically
having a 19th century or 20th century political
organizations or political systems that are not suited to
be used in today’s world, but we just happen to use them. And the people who are in
power, whenever they’re in power, are not incentivized
to challenge them or change them. And I think as I look at
what was happening in Egypt, for instance, as I mentioned,
the notion of the large group of people who found
that they have no voice. They want to be part of
deciding on their destiny, and they had no voice. They were outside the system and there was no way to channel that into the system. That led into the situation
that we ended up with, and I want to make–when we
talk about social movements– I really want to make a
difference between social movement in a country like
the U.S. where you could march and then go back
home and Tweet and sleep and not worry that someone
is gonna break your door and arrest you and put you in jail. And in situations like
you are actually in a– probably in the past, that used to happen. So I’m aware of this,
– It still happens. – I’m just talking about today’s world. So we really didn’t have that. Second part of the structural
problem is actually what Marshall was talking about. There’s a term I came across
recently, and I really like called casino capitalism. It’s the exchange of monetary
value with no real value, kind of like it reminds me of
all these political campaigns that run–it’s almost in
the past the candidate needed to appeal to most of the people. Right now, the candidate
could sit down and figure out which is the cheapest type
of candidate that they could appeal to and spend
money in order to change their views. So I really think there
are structural problems. And I really think that
yeah, while we are here to talk about technology,
the problem is way more complex and it requires
a more holistic view. – We haven’t even gotten
to echo chambers online, misinformation, polarization,
we cheered you up enough? – You know, not yet. – It’s Friday, though, it’s Friday. – You were concerned
about hope over there. That the panel was too hopeful. – We can fix that.
– No, I was not concerned, I was just surprised that it was not… I think it’s concern, but it’s not like the world is over. There’s actually, no,
these tools can be used, there’s hope and there’s opportunity here. There’s a message that I didn’t think was going to come through
as strongly as it did. – Just that I’ve been
quoting Tom Hayden a lot lately, who passed away about a year ago, that change is slow except when it’s fast. And we’re in a fast moment
right now, we really are. Which, for me, is a moment
of enormous opportunity. And so the big question is,
rising to that challenge. And where to find the constituencies, the support to do that. Unions aren’t completely disappeared. – Well…. – They’re significant in
certain strategic places, and have to be challenged. The whole attack on
public sector and teachers and healthcare. Healthcare is another
whole domain where people involved in healthcare are
really, really desperate. And I’m not talking about
patients, I’m talking about doctors, I’m talking
about that whole industry that’s just under assault, and community. The Indivisible chapter,
one of the most active is at Harvard Medical
School, of all places. And so there are these
sources of energy out there that we may not think that… Of course the whole immigration world. There’s things like Indivisible. So, to me, the question
is how to connect those sources of energy with the
organizational know-how, and that’s not easy,
because everybody’s got a vested interest in the fragmentation. And so when you start trying
to cohere, unless you’ve got a helluva lot of money,
or wisdom suddenly dawns on all the leadership
on the progressive side, you’ve got a challenge. And so this is something
that has to be worked at, and I think that there’s
an opportunity at this time to work at it that is more
propitious than it would have been three years ago. – So maybe just, we’ll go
to two more quick questions, and then we probably
need to begin to wrap up. – I’m sorry, I just wanted
to say about the churches. The mainline protestant
churches, well three things on the churches. First, Pope Francis is a
very significant moral leader in the world. And I spoke to a gathering
in Modesto, California, mostly farm workers,
attended by 25 bishops, supported by the Catholic church. Now, that was a social
justice constituency that lost its way. But it remains a significant
force, and it remains significantly possible to engage with. The mainline churches seem to… The evangelicals are mobilized,
but the mainline is not. And so that evangelical spirit… The churches are out there,
but people sort of more complain about things than
actually turn it into action, I’m afraid. You’re giving a very good
example of where it is being turned into action. So it’s not like there are
not places with which to rebuild something. But the question is, where the venues are, where the leadership’s gonna come from, and how to support it. – We’ll go up here and do questions. You, first. – Hi, my name is Harut
Manoogian, I’m a first year MPA student here at HKS. My question is, particularly
in jurisdictions like China, where the
government is asserting its control over the social
media landscape, and those platforms like WeChat
are being used outside of China as well, what
does that mean for the future of dissent? – Okay and then we’ll do a second one. – I think this is going to
speak to some of the stuff that Zeynep just brought up, which is… So, as Wael mentioned,
one of the great benefits of the internet at the
beginning was to bring like-minded people together
and now we’ve seen this polarization, all of these
other things happening. So like with this shift in
internet, how do you think we can build shared
values with the platform? If there are any
infrastructural changes that we can make to help move
it in the right direction? – So either–anyone wants
to tackle–Wael, do you want to maybe start with kind
of thinking about China and foreign governments? I feel like you have lived
through some of that. Do you have thoughts as a
person who’s had to deal with that, personally? – Yeah, I was actually in China when China decided to–when Google
found out that China was actually infiltrating our systems. And it was not a happy
occasion, because Google decided to pull off
China, the China service at the time, for security reasons. I think it’s, again, the
question of technology being a tool. And again, as I mentioned,
it is actually cheaper, more economically cheaper
to use this tool for the bad than for the good. And I tend to believe that
hopefully there will be market forces that correct for this. I was meeting a bunch of
people who were working on a protocol that is meant
to prevent governments from being able to censor the internet. And they’re actually doing
a lot of work and they’re gonna be releasing something
in the next few months. It will be very interesting
to see how it plays. This has been always like
the power challenge here between distributed decentralized
nature of the internet. Cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin
and Ethereum and all these cryptocurrencies that
are surfacing right now represent a model of that. And then the traditional
power sources who want to grab the power. And this will be always a struggle. My position is, again,
being optimistic, is to try and stop worrying, or, not
being delusional, but at the same time work towards what
we think is value adding. And in this case, of
course, anti-surveillance. And I want to quickly
touch your question because I thought a lot about
this subject, being a product manager and
working on ranking systems. One of the polarizations
exist in the society because the political system
is not enabling people to have shared values, so I would not say technology is causing
polarization, that would be kind of ridiculous. But I think in an environment
where polarization exists, internet is gonna scale that. And one of the biggest design
problems of social medias of today, they are designed
that if Zeynep’s cat photos are more engaging than my dog
videos, Zeynep’s cat photos are gonna get much more
attention and distributions. I’m giving you distribution. (laughing) And this is great, it works. I think it’s fair, it
doesn’t matter, the society is not gonna pay a price
if they don’t see my dog videos, but one of
the biggest problems here is like all these signals
that are only looking for agreement are used for
distribution decisions are very harmful for society. The echo chambers that
Zeynep was talking about. So there’s a real need right now. I’m hopeful, but at the
same time, it goes against the platform interest to
apply–like every one of you actually is part of this–and
the way I see it is we need to speak truth to
social media platforms just like how we think of governments. They are, effectively,
bigger than many governments, they have much more power. And the idea here is not to
paint them as evil or bad or, because I work in these
companies and most of the people I work with are great
people, well-intentioned, and they mean good. But at the same time,
they have enormous power, and they have to be
accountable, and it is our job to hold them accountable. – You know, just briefly
on this, in my early part of my career, I was doing
a lot of work helping open source communities
think about how to enable collaboration and really
trying to bring negotiation theory into those platforms. So on a tool like Bugzilla
where people were trying to collaborate, I don’t
think we have to always be thinking about the algorithms. Even simple things like
the prompting question, how we frame that can
cause people to respond in a way that’s antagonistic,
or they can respond in a way that is more collaborative. And if we thought about
trying to engage product managers in things like negotiation theory and collaboration theory
to think about how they’re pushing users to engage
one another, there’s very, very soft things we
could do just around the U.S. that could actually
have a profound impact. Zeynep, you had thoughts? – My joke is about China. And it’s not a joke, actually,
is that I think there are two institutions that
really understand how attention works and how to
control it and mobilize it. One of them is BuzzFeed,
and the other is the Chinese Communist Party. (laughing) I’m serious about this. I’m only half joking. And if you’re not cheered up
enough, my talk just came out, it’s a TED Talk on how
our ad technology could be helping build what I called
surveillance authoritarianism. And China is the model. Because a lot of people
think that China is this crude censor, and that it’s
just cutting everything off, and that its technology
is crude and they’re just copying us. Which is like, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Right, Facebook copies WeChat,
not the other way around. It’s a profoundly connected society. There’s a paper out by Gary
King, who’s at Harvard, and Jennifer Pan that looks
at what China censors. They also looked at the
Chinese Censorship Networks. What China does is not
as much censor dissent, because for an authoritarian
government, being able to collect and analyze
dissent is actually power. It’s the petition to the
emperor kind of thing. Otherwise, things are
gonna blow up in a province and you’re gonna be blindsided. But they censor things
that are collective action potential, they let the dissent be. And they also censor
things about the censors, because the censors are
thin-skinned, but I don’t think that’s policy, the
censors just can’t help themselves, if you say
something about them, that’s censored. (laughing) And the government employees,
the alleged 50-cent army that these researchers
managed to interview a bunch, ingenious methods, what they
do is they mobilize attention. Again, speech is not
the scarce commodity in 21st century, attention is. That’s the one to control. What they do is, if
there’s a political thing going on here, they’re not
gonna argue with those people. They go here and create a spectacle. You’re mobilizing attention
away from what it is that you don’t want people to think. So the Chinese online world
is not the severe censorship that cannot be circumvented. In fact, one of the things,
this is what I fear, one of the things that is
potentially really worrisome is how effective it is to
create doubt and confusion as a form of censorship. Because if censorship is
about information to action, it’s really not very plausible
to cut that information off. Even China’s the most extreme case. In a lot of places,
circumvention is possible, it’s a question of political will. Figuring what’s correct
and not is not easy. We face these challenges. And on top of all of
this, what China’s doing is using artificial
intelligence, and this is also happening in the U.S. In the U.S. they’re using
artificial intelligence to sell you watches and gadgets. They’re profiling every
one of us, and they’re figuring out everything. They can read your
emotions, they can predict your mental health,
they can do all of that. At the moment, it’s mobilized
for commercial purposes. – They don’t do it that
well, though, but yeah, they’re getting there. – It’s getting, the only
things that are held back is partly ’cause these companies are young and founder effects, they’re holding back. This is hard to believe,
they really are holding back, partly because they’re printing money. But the technology’s
here, the papers are here. What China is going to
do, and is already doing, is use artificial intelligence to classify and categorize and print and after that… Sorry, Skynet, my mic is being cut off. (audience laughing) Where are you, Sarah Connor? (audience laughing) This is going to come, that
kind of authoritarianism. And the problem, will go back
to the poll echo chambers, because if you get targeted
and characterized using artificial intelligence,
and everything you see screen by screen, we will no
longer have–we’re already losing the common public
sphere, on which politics occurs, and you won’t know
what your neighbor is seeing and what you’re seeing. We already don’t. We saw what happens when
that happened in 2016 in U.S. So I feel like there are
multiple equilibria here, and one of them is the cheery one, right? Indivisible or groups like that. – I’m the cheery source. – Please do talk to me
after, I’m actually a very optim–I don’t just sort of
spill gloom and doom here. I wake up happy, but, so
there’s a cheer scenario here where these technologies,
the connectivity, it’s mobilized, there’s
all this thing, but there’s a really plausible other
equilibria where we descend into a new kind of authoritarianism. Not the Orwellian one, but
one that is not visible. If it comes and it’s very
visible, we’d resist that, it’s totalitarianism, and
we’d hate it, but we’d resist it. That combines data
surveillance, platform politics, artificial intelligence, and
I think China is as close to it at the moment as any other country. It is not a crude form of governance. It has its own legitimacy. It’s not just a dictatorship,
and it’s really worth thinking about the
connections between what China is doing very well and
the infrastructure of that authoritarianism
that we’re also building right now with the digital economy. We’re not using it that
way, but we’re building that infrastructure. And that’s what I really
worry about besides how do we use it, how will the powerful use it? And I think that’s sort
of this big open question. – I think this is a great
talk, I’m sure you’re familiar with Michael Anti’s talk? – Yes. – I think Michael Anti talks
about China, and I think the thing that he’s saying is
it’s not just to create a distraction, but it’s
also to channel people. So why are there tweets
allowed about Bo Xilai, it’s because we’re gonna
use the anger against him to channel people. And then the state can be
perceived as being responsive to that problem. It’s a very sophisticated
way of thinking about censorship and channeling
people’s attention. – I’m telling you, BuzzFeed
and Chinese Communist Party. – I’m sorry, go for it, Wael. – Sorry, go ahead. – I’m fine. – I just wanted to say
because of my activism years, I so clearly–this notion
of abundance, the scarcity of speech is something
that we sometimes define as activism, that is,
our ability to speak up. And as of today, it’s
actually the abundance. Like everybody’s speaking
up, and everybody’s talking. And everybody’s commenting
on what is happening. And that’s why I think
authoritarian regimes started to realize that. If it’s all about the talks,
it is okay, everybody, 10,000, 100,000. If we are not, as activists,
or as people who care about the world we’re living
in, if we are not converting that talk into actionable
items, if we’re not building movements that
build trust and have a goal and try and achieve that,
we should not be happy with the talking. The talking is now a cheap… It used to be very expensive
in the past, but right now it’s much cheap commodity,
and everyone could do it. You could just go into
your Facebook account, write a couple of words
and get a lot of attention, and it’s actually comforting in many ways. And I feel, it deterred,
personally sometimes, I’d actually feel I’ve done
my share, but the reality is I have not. So I really think it’s an
important notion to think that it’s much easier
to speak as of today, but it is less rewarding
and it’s much harder to do an action. – So I think we’re kind
of running low on time. For me, this is an amazing conversation. The thing I want to push
people in the audience to be thinking about is when
you are organizing people and bringing together,
it’s not just hey, what is some result, what’s
the signal we’re sending? But it’s clear to me that
the conclusion of the panel is, what are you doing to
build capacity and build leadership capacity in that organization? And if you’re not doing
that, then you’re probably putting yourself down a path
where you’re not going to achieve your goals because
you’re not going to have the ability to move the
steering wheel, or even build the steering wheel to
adapt your tactics when you start to get push back. I want to thank the IOP,
who was very generous in hosting us here, as well
as the Shorenstein Center, who brought Wael to us,
and has made it possible for him to be here. I’m a director of Digital
HKS, and those three organizations came together
to make this happen, but mostly I want to
thank our three panelists, so please, if everybody
could join us and thank them. (audience applauds)

One Comment

  • Matt Orfalea

    1:00:00 ***the issue is on the left nobody is funding canvassing etc. bc people can do only so many weekends so many days while working other jobs… (we need basic income)

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