The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political Change
In this seminal article Clay Shirky analyses the potential of social media to induce political change. He argues that social media are an important tool to support civil society and the public sphere and that they can be vital in forming a political environment of change.
This article by Clay Shirky looks at the potential for social media to provoke political change. The author points at many examples in which social media played a role for political movements, sometimes successful and sometimes not. Pointing to the mostly anecdotal nature of the analyses of social media effects, Shirky concludes that the real effect of social media on certain societies is most likely to be seen only after years and decades, rather than weeks or months. While supporting the focus of the US State Department on internet freedom as a policy aim, he criticizes the so-called “instrumental approach” to internet freedom which focusses on providing specific tools to circumvent state censorship and control.
Shirky argues that it would be more effective to pursue an environmental approach, stressing the importance of social media in supporting the public sphere and facilitating societal conversation. Restrictions to internet freedom by authoritarian regimes should be a real concern for US policy makers. As Shirky writes, there is a potential to support social media availability by focusing on the economic benefit of these technologies. Supporting general, rather than specific, policy oriented tools, could thus be the most efficient way to affect the political environment in authoritarian states.
C. Shirky, “The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political Change”, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2011.