I’m planning to be conversing with you today in regards to the role of the Web in political activism. So I spent time with your activists and asked them whether they were using social media, if these were engaging with the Web, and why they could be doing it.
Venturing out in to the field and talking to political activists is important, as it gives you an insight to their ideology, their motivations, and why they think it’s important to use certain Web technologies.
To be able to go and speak to these activists, I wanted a technique 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 theoretically and doing an MSc in Web science, and knowing about networks and organisation online was really very important to me.
So with this at heart, I resulted in in London, willing to observe how these political activists were utilizing the Web because of their protests. And what I discovered was that, broadly now, in 2013, there is apparently plenty of apathy, as well as 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 information about citizens from not just America, but all over the world. This was a thing that 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, simply because they saw them now included in the establishment.
If you look back towards the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring, these technologies were technologies of liberation for most people. Nevertheless now, only two years later, they have become technologies that symbolise surveillance by the state, the increased loss of privacy by individuals, and the typical ability for both corporations and governments to keep citizens in line and stop such protests.
Discovering this was extremely essential for both my research, activism but additionally for Web science. Because I do believe it showed how it is vital to look at both the social and the technical areas of the Web together.
The Web is this thing, which will be computers, but in addition humans. It’s humans influencing technology, and technology influencing humans. And if you never look at how one affects another, it’s very hard to state for many how society is being changed and developed.