The False Poles of Digital and Traditional Activism

Digital activism has been construed as its own movement, a new wave of organizing unique to the 21st century digital world.  In fact, digital tools are complementary to “traditional” activism, for a number of reasons: They allow organizers to quickly mobilize large numbers of people; they help draw media attention to causes, and quickly; they allow for a centralized portal of information.  But by drawing a distinct line between “traditional” and “digital” (or online and offline, if you prefer) activism, pundits and journalists are doing a disservice to both the utility of digital tools and to the resilience of traditional advocacy.

“Offline versus Online” are False Poles

Renowned writer Malcolm Gladwell, in this week’s New Yorker, argues that the “weak ties” of “digital activism” cannot remotely compare to the strong ties of traditional activism, using the American Civil Rights movement as a baseline.  To the former point, he gives examples of the much-touted “Twitter revolutions” in both Moldova and Iran, noting that it was Western media that quickly claimed success for the two movements, ignoring local views.  To this point, he quotes Iranian commentator Golnaz Esfandiari, who stated in Foreign Policy at the end of last summer: “Simply put: There was no Twitter Revolution inside Iran.”

Gladwell is correct: Western pundits, quick to look for a story (and in some cases, quick to hope for the overturning of a regime), jumped on Twitter as a revolutionary tool, loudly beating the drum that Twitter had revolutionized revolutions.  From Andrew Sullivan (“The Revolution will be Twittered“) to lawyer and pundit Lily Mazahery, who at a conference went as far as to say that, without Twitter, Iranians never would’ve been able to get information out to the world (um, e-mail?), to the State Department, which infamously requested Twitter postpone scheduled maintenance to allow the Iranians to keep tweeting, Twitter was quickly deemed a lifesaver.

With that in mind, Gladwell’s delineation between the “strong ties” of activism past and the “weak ties” of the digital age is problematic.  Ignoring the utility of social media and other digital tools (including mobile ones), Gladwell argues that “[digital activism] is simply a form of organizing which favors the weak-tie connections that give us access to information over the strong-tie connections that help us persevere in the face of danger.”

While it’s true that the framing we so often see (“digital” versus “traditional” activism) is highly problematic, traditional activism is indeed enhanced by digital tools (sometimes greatly), while solely digital activities can be hampered by weak ties. co-founder Mary Joyce suggested the example of “Save Darfur” Facebook groups as a “weak tie” example of online activism, and I don’t agree.  But the precedent for such groups is perhaps the handing out of green “Save Darfur” bracelets, a phenomenon that occurred in the early 2000s, shortly after Lance Armstrong’s LiveStrong bracelets made waves.  Bracelets aren’t a method for making change, but they certainly draw attention to a cause.

Campaigns such as these, as well as the use of Twitter during the Iranian elections, seem to serve two primary purposes: drawing attention to the cause, and mobilizing the masses to make a small effort.  The use of Twitter and Facebook for any kind of activism seems to serve those purposes, in fact.  But how is that different from the mass mobilization involved in traditional activism?  As Gladwell points out, the civil rights movement had a “strong tie” core of people dedicated to their cause.  But surely not every single person who attended a march on the Mall had a strong tie to the movement!  Marches, a solidly traditional form of activism, did not involve only the hard core of activists, but also the outliers: folks who cared but were only up for one-time involvement.  Letter-writing campaigns present a similar argument.

And while Gladwell might argue that such one-time involvement is still a great risk to the individual (surely it is, as people were arrested, shot at), I would argue that, in the most repressive of societies, digital involvement (be it long-term or one-time) can present similar peripheral risks.  It is not always the most serious and outspoken bloggers who get arrested for their activism, as we have seen, but sometimes the outliers, in the wrong place at the wrong time (see: Mohammed Erraji).  Often such circumstances a stronger activist makes, but that’s a point for another time.

The problem with Gladwell’s piece, then, is not his pessimism about the popular media line on digital activism, but rather, the choice he makes to ignore the utility of digital tools for “real-world activism.”  Or as Alaa Abd El Fattah points out: “it’s not like “real world” activists are going to abstain from using the net to prove their analogness.”

In other words, “Digital activism” alone is fairly useless, but the utilization of digital tools can make traditional activism infinitely stronger.

Certain Support Ensures Weak Ties

In a recent blog post-turned-Al Jazeera op-ed, Sami Ben Gharbia makes the point (among several other points), that the U.S. government and some of the organizations it funds are “gatecrashing ‘netroots activism”.  His argument is that, as Western heads turn to the already-existing sphere of activists in the Arab world and attempt involvement (due to a variety of factors, not least of which is massive government funding initiatives), they are wont to misunderstand and thus get involved in potentially dangerous ways, thus upsetting the existing ecosystem.

Ben Gharbia argues that “we urgently need to resist every governmental attempt to hijack or politicise our space, publicly denounce it and make sure that we are making informed decisions, rather than naively accepting ideologically tinted internet freedom funding and support.”

Though I don’t entirely agree that activists elsewhere should entirely reject funding (after all, if the better ones do, then the lesser ones get it–the funding isn’t going to simply disappear, and who’s to say you can’t denounce while engaging), I think he makes an important point.  The U.S. “net freedom” agenda relies heavily on a particular narrative of democracy and regime change that favors certain governments (Iran, China) over others (Tunisia, Syria), regardless of the existing levels of repression in such places, due to various political reasons.  Thus, it seeks to reason that a number of organizations that receive USG funding are duly influenced by that narrative.  Ben Gharbia has done a good job of illustrating this, so I digress.

I would argue that one of the most problematic results of this narrative and the funding and work that goes along with it is who it targets.  Looking at recent conferences and workshops to which I’ve been a party, I’ve noticed an ongoing theme: Where the workshop or conference is funded largely or in part by U.S. organizations, a certain demographic of activist–let’s call them “troublemakers”–are largely absent.  Whether this is by choice or by exclusion, I couldn’t say, and I would wager it’s a combination of the two, but it is nevertheless frustrating to see.  USG-funded organizations are rarely unpolicitized, thus it makes sense that they would exclude to a degree those who aren’t willing to abide by the narrow American narrative of freedom (for example, excluding democracy activists who don’t outright condemn Hamas).  But just as such notions don’t work in the MidEast peace talks, neither will they in activist circles.

Tied to that is Gladwell’s argument of “weak ties”: “Non-native,” outsider movements that seek to bring together activists around a particular network or cause are, or are at least sometimes seen as, disingenuous.  Bringing a group of people together in the attempt to influence a certain line of thinking (or even to “whiten up” an existing one) doesn’t work.  You simply can’t build a movement from the top down.

Building a New Narrative

Ben Gharbia challenges the prevailing dialogue around digital activism, arguing that: “For digital activism in the Arab world to achieve its noble aspirations, it must remain independent and homegrown, tapping its financial, logistic and moral support into its grassroots, seeking support from neutral parties that do not push for any kind of political or ideological agenda.”  For some, this means creating a new narrative, outside of that which exists in the mainstream discourse, by and for existing activists.

While I agree with the importance of such a narrative, I’m still tempted to ask: Is there any room at all for U.S. funding?  I certainly take (strong) issue with the manner in which the U.S. net freedom narrative is being sold and deployed, but as an American citizen who straddles the line of two worlds at times, one thing concerns me: The USG is going to do what it’s going to do.  It will continue to claim lofty goals for the promotion of Internet freedom, regardless of how hypocritical the deployment of such goals may be.  Therefore, is it better for activists to work outside the existing structures to build their own narrative, or is there any room for working within existing framework, to challenge the power structures and the status quo in the hopes of influencing how decisions are made and money spent?

Furthermore, what can we, as U.S. citizens, do to challenge the existing narrative and create a better one that is concerned with actually “exporting freedom” to all of those who are being stifled?

These are open questions, and I invite you to join in the dialogue.

80 replies on “The False Poles of Digital and Traditional Activism”

So frustrated by those anointed as experts passing judgement on mediums they don’t use. You see Malcom Gladwell on Twitter much? Hell, would you even consider him a normal person?

No to both. Twitter, in of itself, is a communication medium. It’s not social media’s fault that people may not be as out there as they used to be, but it’s a bigger world now.

40 years ago no one in the US would probably have even HEARD of any Middle East squabble. Thanks to social media, we’re now able to connect and share with those in the think of it.

So sure, maybe we don’t have sit ins now, and there’s definitely no digital equivalent of that unless you count a DDoS attack, but I’d bet people are more aware, more giving and more helpful on a worldwide scale now.

Perhaps our numbers haven’t quite caught up, but it’s happening. And besides, there’s a helluva big difference between staging a sit in at a restaurant that won’t serve black people that stepping in front of a gun, traveling to a war zone or helping feed and clothe a third world country.

So right on that first point, Tyler. The most obnoxious commentators don’t even use Twitter.

I think the internationalization of certain issues is a great point that deserves further thinking. Question to you: Does our involvement online/from afar help or harm activists in other countries? Though I’m tempted to say we’re not all that useful, I would probably argue that in some circumstances, the attention given to issues by folks over here, is in fact useful. Poverty might be a good example.

Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

re the question about US funding, frankly the answer is and should always be no there is no room for US funding. anyone looking at how power works should be able to realize it. there is hardly a group of people outside the US (and many inside) who’s interests are aligned with US ruling class interests enough for US funding to be benign.

now there are some who don’t believe this to be true, it is after all a very political point of view. but unless they want to work on their own the still need to avoid US funding like the plague (ie some egyptian liberals believe the US is about democracy and what not, but they need to join in broad movements in Egypt and work with people like me).

re weak ties, the analysis itself is too simplistic mixing different things.
* groups that deliberately seek to organize in non centralized ways (including all non authoritarians like anarchists, feminists, counter globalization movement, free software movement, etc.)
* groups that emerged through chance, finding structures later on (now most true revolutions had alot of that, the more heirarchical groups just emerged as leaders/victors near the end, this applies to october revolution, anti apartheid movement in south africa, iranian revolution, etc.)
* groups that use weak ties to involve larger masses (and among these fundraising, symbolic actions and direct action should be treated differently)
* groups that are completely conceived with weak ties as only means of action

he is also conflating action, with decision making with deliberation, with advocacy, each a distinct activity a movement can rely in strong hierarchy for one, representative democracy for another and weak ties for the rest (nationwide cross sector labour unions are like that for example).

now what many seem to focus on when talking about digital activism is weak ties in action. for good reason ICTs allow mobilizing weak ties more easily than before (or seem to, I’ve lived all my adult life under ICTs it is difficult to tell). for thinking about weak tie action I always like to use what Ory Okohloh calls micro activism.

micro activism are tasks you ask people not strongly associated with your movement but strongly motivated by your cause. they are like letter writing campaigns, except it is a mistake to assume they all need to be cheap and easy. we’ve had success asking people to engage in very dangerous activities like monitoring their local polling station (last parliamentary election over a dozen where killed near their polling stations).

what makes an action micro activism is that:
* it has a clear steps from beginning to end
* it stands on it’s own, doesn’t require followup action by the participant itself
* any follow up work to be done by the movement is clearly understood and will not take much time
* it has a clear positive outcome (protesting/expressing usually doesn’t qualify)
* it doesn’t require enrollment in a movement. it doesn’t associate the participant with anyone or any agenda beyond the core issue and the action itself and its outcome

this alone doesn’t a movement build, but it is also one of the best ways to extend the reach of a movement, a member of audience that engages in micro activism is closer to being a member, one who participates in many is even closer. action does the recruitment and tells you more about which part of your target demographic to listen to. etc.

now ICTs are great for this, social networks actually suck at it but that’s a different story.

Useful to those affected in a direct, short-term way? Yes in the case of disasters, no in the case of more long-term issues like dictatorships and whatnot.

We really have no idea what to think about all this, because it’s so damn new. I bet the world was pretty pissed at the demonstrators in the US in the 60s (oh wait, most of the world didn’t know or didn’t care about it) yet we’re rushing to judgment after only being connected for a few years.

The more we know about what’s going on around us, the better. In the long run, this will have a positive effect.

Interesting discussion. Can be compared to that about development funds, that are often given out in hypocritical ways (support companies in giver country), or in naive ways (as rich countries often don’t know how best to help poor ones).

You see the same problems with activism. As soon as money is involved, it gets tainted by naivite or hypocrisy. And those receiving the ‘aid’ will loose some of their homegrown authenticity. Even if it is not in the form of money.

But can you wish these problems away? I don’t think so. Is it even possible to decide who are the real homegrown and authentic activists? Reality is usually complicated.

But one can talk about these things, have a discussion like these blog posts. And that might just help a bit to spread some knowledge back and forth, reduce the naivety.. maybe even the hypocrisy. Dialogue is nearly always a good thing.

Let me first agree with you on “Digital activism alone is fairly useless, but the utilization of digital tools can make traditional activism infinitely stronger”. But I’d like to raise some questions that I frankly do not know their answers.

– It’s true that Digital and Traditional Activism are meant to exist together and make use of each other, but sometimes the idea of fighting for a certain cause from behind the keyboard while sitting on a couch is so appealing to most of us. If we have the option to either release our inner-activistic-energy in a tweet or in a demo in the street, we sure will prefer the tweet to the street. and in fact, this is what many of us already do.

– This brings me to another question, when it comes to traditional activism, are demos really helpful. I’m used to seeing demos night and day here in the middleeast, yet I failed to find any case where a single demo was really able to change anything.

May be I am pessimistic, but I believe there have to be other methods other than raising awareness. Back to the Iran/Twitter case, I guess people working in twitter might have helped feeding such idea of Iran/Twitter Revolution. Put yourself in their shoes, isn’t this a perfect marketing campaign for them? Sure, such idea wasn’t to be able to last unless it came in resonance with those in the US government and media who were “quick to look for a story and in some cases, quick to hope for the overturning of a regime”. So, what I want to say here is that maybe if activists – whether digital or traditional ones – are able to convince the media and their governments that their cause is in fact in resonance with the media/government’s interests, or as they say in defining soft power “to make them want what you want”. May be then activism will work regardless of it’s presence in the street or in the clouds.

In fact, I am more like thinking in loud voice, and not sure if what I’ve just wrote makes any sense :)


Great response! It covers most of what I realized was missing from the Gladwell piece.

What I realized after reading Gladwell’s article was how sloppy he was in conflating different flavors of activism. I can think of 3 popular themes: there is regime change of a dictator (always a popular example of activism failures), policy change in a democracy (civil rights, etc), and citizen vigilantism (the example Gladwell gave about the stolen Sidekick).

To my knowledge, this last category has succeeded even in totalitarian regimes. A person or people are harmed; the censorship infrastructure is not immediately able to block it, people spread the word, and the central regime realizes that they need to find a fall guy. So I suspect that’s the sort of activism that we (digital activism drivers) might wish to publicize more.


Unsure why some folks think ‘twitter activism’ is exemplified by the Iranian so-called Twitter Revolution which seemed to be to be concocted and westernised.

A better example for political activism on twitter is the campaign for Palestinian rights which ramped up with Israel’s attack on the people of Gaza – Operation Cast Lead. Israel refused entry to Gaza for foreign journalists, and so the grim truths of Israel’s assault on the essentially defenceless population were communicated extensively by residents including local journalists.

Another War Zone: Social Media in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict collates some of the action at

This study concludes that ‘It is now nearly a truism to note that digital media is fundamentally changing the terrain of politics, due to its reach and speed, and its function in the lives of civilian populations and states alike’

further that

‘Since the mid-2000s, the Israeli state has demonstrated its increasing investment in the value of digital media. Activists opposing the Israeli state’s projects, meanwhile, have fine-tuned their usage of new media tools as well. And while assessments of who lost and who won the successive engagements may vary, it is clear that digital communications technologies have altered the nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. Web 2.0 has lent the Israeli state new means of control over Palestinian populations, on and off the battlefield, while also giving local populations — in Israel, Palestine and elsewhere — new ways of backing and agitating against Israeli policies.’

(for a collation of some of the tweets from the beginning of the Israel Consulate’s first government twitter compaign, see my blog here: – caution! hasbara alert :)

That’s a great point, Jin. I’ve actually been hoping for a study (well, hoping someone else will do one) on the impact of social media on the BDS movement.

I think when we look at digital activism outside of a democracy-promotion and regime-change lens, we’ll find so many more interesting examples. But for now, much of the dialogue is focused around those two points thanks to the State Department. I’m hoping that changes.

“Digital activism” is a bit of a misleading term, isn’t it? Maybe better to think of digital tactics within activism.

In some cases digital tech is central and allows for communication and mobilization where this could not occur otherwise (international grassroots campaign, counter-narratives and mobilization in some repressive regimes). At other times digital tactics gives only a marginal edge to an already sophisticated and well-resourced campaign (large NGOs). This view makes clear that there is rarely an absolute distinction between digital and analog activism.

Also, nice comments from everyone. Much enjoyed them, especially Alaa’s.

Agree with Tyler Hurst. Gladwell seems awfully quick to dismiss the impact of a new medium, and completely ignores Michael Slaby’s hierarchical use of social media in the Obama 2008 campaign. Completely disagree with this sentence from Gladwell’s piece: “The things that King needed in Birmingham—discipline and strategy—were things that online social media cannot provide.”

Bob Page
Chapel Hill

Jillian, twitter and BDS, here’s just a small, but classic example from yesterday.

I posted a link to a vid of a NY BDS flash mob – http://sara– then someone not far away from me in Queensland, Australia picked up on my tweet and decided that the local Palestinian Solidarity group could do something like that too – she straight away went to the FB group from the link I tweeted her. The immediacy of twitter enables a flow of creativity and motivation far more easily than if folks received the info via facebook, or email or the MSM.

Collaboration produces powerful synergy which shouldn’t be underestimated! I think reactionary forces fear this – witness the enthusiastic way the Murdoch rag the Australian is pursuing anon Australian bloggers and tweeters at the moment. There’s already been one notable tweeter who’s sworn off twitter as a result of @GrogsGamut ‘s outing.

On Gladwell’s claim of ‘weak’ ties from non-hierachical structure, just because he’s not aware of the informal hierachy within online activism, where content (and cred) is king, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Thinking about MLK’s model for direct action, the digital sphere may not always play a major part in the actual end ‘direct action’ apart from instantly communicating where flash events are to occur, but it certainly contributes majorly to the preceding activities – documentation, negotiation and self-purification :)

Thanks, Jillian, for this conversation.

I often appreciate Gladwell’s perspective and even agree that social media doesn’t replace person-to-person activism. They are complementary.

Actually, one of the sad things re: Gladwell and twitter is that there is a Marcolm Gladwell, no profile, no tweets, but: 5,182 Followers 119 Listed That says a lot about a certain herd mentality.


Excuse me for interrupting the Palestinian People’s Solidarity rally here, but if you are in fact on the open Internet inviting open discussion, I feel compelled to respond.

You say so many things in agreement with Malcolm Gladwell that it’s hard really to believe that in fact you’re taking exception to him as I do, chapter and verse:

A really grave problem I see in his article — and yours — is that you are too reliant on very particular single anecdotal perspectives on situations like Iran or Moldova and other situations from a few very strong-willed influencers with a lot of well-funded mindshare.

I argued strenuously against Ethan Zuckerman’s take on Moldova (which has now become gospel for Gladwell) because I refuted — as people inside the country did as well — that diaspora tweeting was somehow inauthentic or that retweeting of people’s Live Journals “didn’t count”. As for claims that Twitter was indispensable and your snarky “um, email,” well, um, what about the fact that many people start using Twitter *as* email?! Are you paying attention to #freekg and the southern Kyrgyzstan events this summer? Can you accept that exiles, expats, internationals, domestic activists don’t stay in boxes and actually fly around and actually talk to each other and that they do that on Twitter as much as email? That *is* the Twitter revolution. I *really* have no need to exaggerate Twitter’s influence or capacity and have debunked the utopians on many occasion. But I’m certainly not doing to defy the record of facts and claim that Twitter isn’t playing an accelerating role in many civic causes.

Sorry, I’m not going to pile on to bash the evil “Western media” along with you social media gurus because all they did was enthuse and cover early-adapter geeky enthusiasts who are your friends; you enthuse, too, when it’s a Twitter revolution or an API you *like*. Morozov dutifully and positively retweeted like others of you and your followers that an API has now been developed, for example, by pro-Palestinian activists to track Jewish settlements. Aren’t you all in fact taking part in a Twitter revo or a valid stream of activism when you do that?! And hey, will there be an API to track Hamas missile strikes and terrorist acts, too? or does Ushadi not do those windows?

As I’ve explained, the real analysis here has to be of the content of the social movements, not just of their form. This or that Facebook or bus-shelter or bracelet campaign around Save Darfur could be “a sucess,” but the operation was so successful the patient died. Every time I see some clueless git in a Save Darfur t-shirt, I want to take them up to the UN to show them the real problem — Chinese oil and Russian arms and Egyptian maneuvering, not American placating. Did you have an API for that?

I’m also going to reject in advance your “point for another time” that suggests some activists strategize to do things that will victimize them and then achieve a Leninist “the worst, the better.” Maybe they do, but the fault still lies squarely at the regime’s doorstep.

As for your getting on the anti-American bus with the Arab bloggers (or maybe you never got off), I wonder what it would take for you guys, Jil to get rid of your squeamishness and ambivalence about your country’s governmentl.

Here you have a progressive president taking on enormous challenges and succeeding in some instances in turning things around. How much better do you REAAALY think it can get, given the backlash already engendered by Obama’s admittedly compromised actions? Why this aversion to government that in fact you were all happy to bring about (unless you are even more sectarian that I realize)? Why this sudden coquettish sense of alienation from a government you elected and wished well, as if it is now some alien imperialist bastion just because some Middle Eastern exile is torqued about it? Why do you accept this silly caricature of insular Arab bloggers? A government by and for the people doesn’t “gatecrash” netroots activism in oppressive societies, Jillian, it *shows solidarity* to them and *helps* becuse *we were asked to help*. Why can’t you accept that?! Government is imperfect. Life is about choices. You can sensibly chose this or that agency or government (and there are many to pick from in the West and the global South) to move the agenda forward. Have you asked the Brazilians or Russians to do something about Iranians in prison? Oh, no, because they never speak out at international meetings about Iran. So who will do this if the U.S. is too tainted for your taste because…it supports Israel? That’s ultimately what it’s about, isn’t it.

I totally agree about “big government” getting in the way of fragile ecosystems, which is why I simply won’t work on government-funded projects in these regions. But to throw out everything that American stands for in horrible settings like the UN Human Rights Council is short-sighted and myopic, or to imagine, like Sami, that their funding of projects like data bases about human rights violations kept by people in exile are wrong (which in fact was inexplicably cut off by the Obama administration), is to leave the field ENTIRELY to the authoritarian regimes, and frankly do the regimes’ work for them, which is my constant refrain with Yevgeny Morozov.

As for the absence of troublemakers, yes, we’ve seen that in other regions in the last 20 years, where the programs tilt toward the “vegetarian” and the “meat-eaters” aren’t at the international conferences but are left home or chose to stay home or are in jail. Such is the way of the world. It’s all part of the necessary continuum and levels in any social movement, and there must be tolerance for these different levels.

But to be very blunt about it, I wish we could hear about this need to declare the USG anaethema not from exiles and political conference-hoppers, but from people toiling away inside the country. And…we’re not hearing that.

Most gravely troubling is something that you are never called out about publicly, and should be. The Berkman Center’s (or is it just you and Ethan as individual) unwillingness to condemn violent movements and terrorists among the bloggers you support is truely unseemly. It’s completely unjustifiable, and ultimately sets up your much-publicized work to fail, as ordinary people in any country are not going to join extremists who lead to violence. It’s perfectly feasible to condemn the persecution these oppressive governments mete out to bloggers without having to adopt their radical agenda.

You’re not a state, and you don’t need to make compromises or enter into negotiations even with movements that bear arms. You are in the civilian, third sector, and you shouldn’t be celebrating armed revolution, unless, of course you plan to take power yourself this way. It’s ok to “outright condemn Hamas” and peace will not come by pretending it’s not what it is; you don’t do any favours for the Palestinian mother who cursed Hamas when an Israeli missile hit her home and killed her daughter by not making these moral distinctions.

Challenging the existing narrative has to start with challenging *you* too. It’s not only well-funded Harvard think-tanks who get to shape the discourse but lots and lots of other people, and you have shown no indication that you are an honest broken of this dialogue by the narrow positions you take on these issues and the disqualifying you are doing from your vaunted bully pulpit of anyone who doesn’t adapt the “progressive” agenda you espouse.

I’m confused, Catherine, and I think you are too. You can’t seem to tell the difference between me and Ethan and Sami and Evgeny, which is too bad, because the four of us are very different people with very different views, backgrounds, and levels of influence. What I see is that you claim to have read my post, but in fact are horribly conflating what you think are my views with the views of others.

Look, I don’t wholly reject USG funding. Rather, I’m wary of it and I see need for a lot of improvements if I’m ever going to feel comfortable encouraging activists abroad to take it. I’m also curious why you’ve avoided my point about State twice: It is fact that the Net freedom agenda ignores the US government’s export controls on software to Iran, Syria, Cuba, and Sudan (which all effectively hamper communications for normal folks). It is also fact that the USG has done little to halt the export of filtering technologies to repressive regimes. Both of those things are reasons I can’t get behind State and their Net freedom initiative, not just yet. But I’m working on both issues, are you? Do you think they matter? I most certainly do.

Why do I criticize the US government so heavily, when it comes either to net freedom or Israel (or anything else?) Because this is where I can effect change, Catherine. This is my country, this is where I’m a citizen and where I currently live. I’m under no illusions about Hamas or the Syrian government (or what have you), but I feel it is my duty to effect change from here, within the system, as I am best able. And the change I wish for might not be the same change you hope to see, but c’est la vie. I don’t see anything wrong with criticizing my own government; in fact, I feel it is my duty.

As for my and your comments re: Hamas, I feel compelled to clarify. I do not support Hamas, however, I do support including Hamas in any peace talks the way the ANC was instrumental in talks that brought about a new South Africa. Ignoring an elected government, even if that government uses terrorist tactics is an absurdity that I cannot get behind.

But back to my first point – you assume that I shilled for Obama or that I got excited about Peace Now’s “settlement tracker” that conveniently ignores East Jerusalem. You also assume that I throw out “American standards” for human rights. I don’t honestly believe that you can distinguish me from Ethan from Sami from Evgeny, or anyone else. Your comments indicate that you’ve seen my comments on others’ blogs and decided to check mine out for the first time. Good, I’m glad – yes, this is an open conversation, and yes, I invite anyone to take part, no matter how much I might disagree. But don’t act like you know anything about me.

I meant to respond to the following as well:

Most gravely troubling is something that you are never called out about publicly, and should be. The Berkman Center’s (or is it just you and Ethan as individual) unwillingness to condemn violent movements and terrorists among the bloggers you support is truely unseemly. It’s completely unjustifiable, and ultimately sets up your much-publicized work to fail, as ordinary people in any country are not going to join extremists who lead to violence. It’s perfectly feasible to condemn the persecution these oppressive governments mete out to bloggers without having to adopt their radical agenda.

First off, this is my blog. When I write here, it is rarely in my capacity at Berkman, though I have blogged about Berkman work or from conferences. Still, please see disclaimer.

Nevertheless, I’d like to hear an example of a “terrorist blogger” either of us have supported. I’m waiting.

My reaction as well: WTF? Who are these “terrorists among the bloggers”?
It’s probably best not to open that can of worms here in the comments.
Catherine, you have a blog, 3-D Blogger. Please create a blog entry there listing the terrorist bloggers for our information.

Thanks for pointing out the concept of “micro activism” – I like Ory’s term. Not too many comments on what you’ve said here, though I think all are good points for the broader dialogue.

I was thinking of you and your comments yesterday when I talked to someone (an Arab-American) about these issues; the person countered by saying “Arabs aren’t stupid, they know what they’re doing taking US funding.” I believe his point was that people believe that they’re gaming the system in a way by taking funding from the very nation they feel contributes to their oppression.

In that vein, in your opinion, is there any way in which Arab (or any non-American) orgs or individuals are justified in taking US funding? Do you agree with his conclusion?

(no need to respond publicly if you don’t want to; I’m just curious to hear your views and felt that they would contribute nicely to the discussion here if you’re up for it)

Definitely can be compared to development funds; it’s always pertinent to remember that what’s best for politicians is not always best for people.

Good point re: “authenticity” in activists. I’m sure Alaa would have something to chime in about on that one.

Thanks for joining in :)

Nice bit of fancy footwork, Jill, but my statement obviously isn’t about some specific actually supported blogger, but your *policy*, i.e. like the policy Amnesty International once had (and has backslide from morally) not to take up as prisoners of conscience those who have used or advocated violence..

Read it again: “unwillingness to condemn violent movements and terrorists among the bloggers you support is truely unseemly”.

So are you are, or are you not, for including among bloggers — as a matter of principle — bloggers that condone or accept violent movements and terrorists, such as Al Qaeda?

Yes or no?

If you *do* have a policy that no, Berkman or the project it cofounded and still supports, Global Voices, shouldl NOT endorse or publish those who incite violence, let’s hear it!

i’m waiting.

Catherine, your statement was NOT obvious, which is why I asked you to clarify it. Very little of what you say is particularly clear. I’m also not entirely sure why you’re approaching me about this particular issue on this particular post, but I will nevertheless try to answer.

I cannot speak for Global Voices or Berkman on this one. I am not aware of a written policy by either organization, though I can state for certain that Berkman is not in the business of advocacy, generally, but particularly when it comes to bloggers. Berkman does not support Global Voices financially anymore, either.

As for my own policies? Well, Catherine, I don’t have a policy, and I don’t see this as a black and white issue, as much as you might want me to.

As a matter of principle, I am an advocate for free speech, so long as that speech does not itself incite violence. But let’s be clear – I do very much differentiate between Al Qaeda and Hezbollah.

And since you insist on bringing Israel up again and again (even when no one else has), I will say this: I’m surprised to hear that you advocate nonviolence. Do you also condemn Israel’s violent land theft, and inexcusable murders of Palestinian children? An advocate for pure nonviolence can condemn Israel and Hamas both, but not one or the other. To do so is disingenuous.

I will continue to take each incident on a case by case basis. I can’t speak for Berkman, or GV on this matter, and I suggest you take your questions to the people who have authority to do so.

I’m grateful to Malcolm Gladwell for my favourite new quote, which is in the text of his replies to people’s questions on the New Yorker about his piece on social media:

“Incomprehension is simply what a narcissist calls disagreement.”

I’m not “confused,” Jillian, I disagree — but nice try trying to discredit your opponent in a debate by making it seem as if they are not capable of basic reading comprehension or distinguishing the microscopic differences between people sitting in the same institute.

Gosh, if you, Ethan, and Evgeny don’t share a “line,” send me back to Alcove 1 or Alcove 2 until I can parse the sectarian difference, OK. Um, horribly? Er, no, just on the basics — on your critique of Gladwell; on your singing from the same sheet on Moldova; on your use of the same examples; and so on. Rather than *telling* me that you are all precious snowflakes, why not *say* what your critique of Morozov is or distinguish *your* take on Moldova from Ethan’s dismissiveness. Go ahead, I’m waiting…

I’m curious why you, and Ethan, too, can raise the question of *whether* we should all be campaigning to get the U.S. government out of the Internet freedom business, and instead, are finding reasons to at least flirt with the harder positions of the Arab bloggers so you can make sure to remain in with the cool kids, but then not…making a policy.

Are you, or are you not, for taking U.S. government funding, either for yourselves, or as a blogger in another country? Can’t you develop a position on this for your organization and for yourselves as individuals, or do you think if you leave it as an interrogative you can have it both ways?

Ignore your point about State *twice*? Hell, no. I just don’t *agree* with you and the other leftists who constantly fuss about this as a hypothetical in literalist and misleading ways.

Export controls on Iran, Cuba, Syria, and Sudan are *good* things. These are all murderous regimes where our colleagues our killed and jailed. There aren’t many tools in this decidedly multipolar world (where the terrorists own one of the poles) to affect the behaviour of these regimes. Witholding U.S. trade is one of them. Human rights activists and those who care about Internet freedom should support these sanctions; in fact, NGOs spend a lot of time trying to get sanctions into place against these regimes by the UN; getting them into place by the US is also a legitimate goal, unless, of course you have a leftist doctrine that anything the U.S. does is wrong because it’s illegitimate and…supports Israel.

I simply don’t concede at all your overheated and ideologically-driven claims that these expert controls “all effectively hamper communications for normal folks”. I guess I’m not normal, because I’ve never found it a *real* obstacle actually to connect to activists in these countries, sometimes through the intermediary NGOs that support them, and hear what they have to say, and sign a petition in their support. In fact, the very vibrant presence of people from these countries in the blogosphere attests to this. I don’t hear *THEM* yammering about this “expert controls” issue, I only hear you in the U.S. I also hear it from people who in general oppose copyright and use this as yet another race track for their hobby horses about copyleftism, evil Microsoft, the need to change to Linux, etc. etc.

Now if you mean by your overbroad statements that “normal folks” don’t include human rights activists and bloggers in this field, oh, ok, then I guess neither I nor you are “normal”. But…normal folks do a good job of getting around these things, too — maybe because they are more quiet about it.

It’s clear to me that these export controls exist as a matter of principle not to help these oppressive regimes, and that’s a good thing. That is their intention; but the intention isn’t to erect an impenetrable barrier literally and directly thwart support to those individuals and groups that oppose these regimes.

*When* there is evidence that some technology can help those individuals and groups circumvent the oppression, State fast-tracks it. That sounds like a perfectly fine system to me if you aren’t an ideological purist agitating about this to gain street credit with nervous Arab bloggers — who don’t like outright boycotts of even the states they oppose so that they don’t look like they are supporting “the enemy”.

In fact, fast-tracking is what the Haystack program got, supposedly, although we’ve heard so much of this story only from Morozov and you, that it’s hard to know what State knew, and when did they know it, although my understanding is that they ceased support of Haystack even before Morozov began to slam it.

So, oh, that’s what you *hated* — when everyone rushed to fastrack a software not invented in your Tor, etc. circles and not approved by you. Yes, it turned out to be flawed and over-hyped and evidently was rightfully withdrawn, but there was a process here that you also don’t seem to concede — that some people can overcome the default of the sanctions if they make the case that the software is useful. In fact, it seems to bother you when there are fastracks, because then you claim that’s a marker for favouritism or special boosting by the powerful USG which unfairly skews the “marketplace” of ideas.

So which is it, Jillian? Do you or do you not concede that the fast-tracking system is one that enables the default of the sanctions to hold, while enabling those programs that could be beneficial to both to “normal folks” and dissidents are let through? I’m failing to see anything wrong with this, unless your *real* issue as an aversion to American state power, and there, I can’t help you because I don’t share that aversion in a world of pragmatic choices rather than utopian ideals.

Oh, in fact what seems to bother you is merely the abstract proposition that 1) State has formal sanctions 2) State does “little” to halt the export of filtering technology. Well, that strikes me as what happens when you have to maintain the threat of sanctions but not make them so literal as to hobble actual assistance to dissidents. Oh, what you *really* mean is that you think State is hypocritical because it enables certain big IT businesses to get a pass, and then takes out a magnifying glass to some hackster’s brainy idea for circumvention. Is that it?

But that’s a problem with hatred of big companies and belief that the U.S. is nefarious in supporting them — as a default ideological position. I don’t share that default. I’d like to hear each and every actual case and use case. I’d like to see if this is just another Ubuntu stalking horse against Microsoft or another seething geek rage about AT&T and phones that can’t be “jailbroken” or whatever. Please be specific.

Here, I think if you step out of the ideological magic circle for a moment and look at some policies and cases, it can help break that sense of outrage and ambvilance you keep invokving about what we as “progressives” must have about these export controls.

Take a look at Microsoft’s policies:

“Just because an item is subject to U.S. export controls does not necessarily mean it cannot be exported. In the case of Microsoft encryption products, a one time government technical review is required prior to export. Microsoft generally ensures that reviews are completed well in advance of a product’s release date. Once a review has been completed, software may become eligible for a particular licensing authority. This authority may then be used by all exporters, not just Microsoft.”

That seems reasonable, but of course, given the kneejerk default about MSFT, I realize it may not to you or your readers. So perhaps you can explicitly tell me where you differ.

As for “I’m working on these issues, are you?” — that’s one of those awful “patch or GTFO” sectarian hacker culture diktats that I NEVER accept as a guilt-trip. For one, I guess I have a little more trust in my *elected* Democratic government to figure this out with the right specialists than you do.

More to the point, my job is not to work on promoting software to circumvent regimes and to dance or not dance with the USG on such software — my job is writing about human rights and regional issues and translating — but it doesn’t have to be in order to think about and critique these issues. In fact, that’s one of the problems with this whole topic — it’s the property of a narrow sector of elites in the think-tanks and NGOs and conference circuits who invoke the need for safety of our colleagues abroad never to question your orthodoxy on these issues.

Funny, isn’t it, how the ANC and anti-apartheid movement never dithered about whether they’d be seen as enemies of the state if they called for foreigners to boycott their government. Yet Arab bloggers are able to invoke that notion and cause liberal Americans to stop in their tracks and backstep on their support for sanctions. What’s up? Answer: some causes become popular on the left; some don’t.

I don’t feel a burning need to change the sanction regime against these countries OR the imperfect and possibly “hypocritical” deviations or legitimate exceptions that State figures out — until I can hear some compelling egregious example. My overall sense is that sanctions are not such a great tool for human rights work and are more often the tool that movements trying to be mass, and trying to have something concrete to do in this country select because they can’t get at the regime targeted. And they lead you to paint yourself into corrners. I will never forget how the American Association of Publishers where I once sat on a freedom of expression committee would dither and dither about whether or not to suspend their program of sending free books to libraries and schools in South Africa because of the mandates of “The Movement” against apartheid. That you are not willing to let even a book with good ideas that might change minds fall into the hands of the authoritarians lets me know that you aren’t using common sense and a willingness to adjust tactics but prefer the comfort of ideological purity.

Which brings me to the next point, which is essentially about what Aryeh Neier calls “Surrogate Advocacy” which is where human rights or freedom or advocacy movements of any kind target not the actual perpetrator of a wrong overseas, but target the U.S. government in some way, trying to find the USG connection, however tenuous, to that regime overseas, through trade or political support, and banging away at the U.S. because they can, and because it’s their country.

I personally really don’t care for “Surrogate Advocacy”. I find it leads groups inevitably to become fixated myopically on their own government “just because they can” and begin to forget what should be the legitimate target. It means you become less creative about finding all the ways to get at the real targets, and get caught up in the animosity and negativity that anti-American groups always get caught up in, ignoring the outrages of regimes like Iran that stone women and hang gays and torture bloggers, and getting into a frenzy because…a Microsoft product slipped through export controls or the U.S. didn’t sufficiently denounce the Iranian government at some conference.

Surrogate advocacy is a surrogate. It’s not the real thing. Getting all chest-thumpy and saying “this is where I live, and this is what I can change” simply doesn’t cut it in this global and interconnected world. There are 100 ways it falls short. Did you go to Russia and protest to them today over their support of Syria? How about Turkey? Turkey has lots of activist groups, like the ones that got involved in the flotilla. They hate injustices; can you get them on board to protest Iran’s brutalities? Oh…

Oh, and ugh — more fancy footwork, but only of the tap-dancing kind that discredits you. I’ve never said you “can’t” criticize your own government. I criticize my own government all the time. For example on the Russia policy, which is something I know about, I am hugely outspoken in the way your fellow leftists aren’t, because they feel there is something “Cold War” or “unprogressive” in doing so at a time when they persist in seeing the U.S. as the greater evil. I don’t suffer from that problem of moral equivalency.

I wonder, in your clear statement “I do not support Hamas” is the first time you’ve ever made it, and whether you are even now cringing because your Arab blogger friends are burning up your email wires…

However, your position — “I do support including Hamas in any peace talks the way the ANC was instrumental in talks that brought about a new South Africa” — is untenable — and also de facto feeds that unsavory Cuban-inspired “Israel is an apartheid state” Durban meme that I would think is disgraceful for even lefty Harvard centers.

And in fact you’ve chosen a very bad example. Had “progressives” like you been a lot more willing to condemn the violence and terrorism of the ANC, and their rigid Soviet-inspired ideological program, we might have a better outcome in South Africa today with less violence, less illegitimacy, and less hypocritcal positions regarding outrageously abusive neighbours like Zimbabwe. Being the victim of an immoral and unsupportable regime like apartheid doesn’t entitle you to elevate violence and terrorism to positions of morality; temporary exigencies have a way of setting in stone and defining permanent characteristics of a government, as we have seen.

As for, ” Ignoring an elected government, even if that government uses terrorist tactics is an absurdity that I cannot get behind” — um, I don’t think there’s any fear that anyone is ignoring Hamas, precisely because they go on using violent tactics — and that’s acceptable?!

And again, I’ll make the point I made in a previous post: you’re not in the peace talks, Jillian. You’re not a government! You’re in the very prestigious and influential Harvard Berkman Center, but you don’t have to adopt the pragmatic and slippery immoral positions of those in power — and hey, Berkman is about Internet and technological policy, not political science and the Middle East!.

Your blessing of Hamas as a participation is not required for peace; it’s not required for anything. Various countries in Europe or Asia might adopt positions of dialogue with Hamas for the sake of a pragmatic search for peace. Jimmy Carter will undoubtedly be available for this task. But that doesn’t mean EVERYBODY has to adopt a position of “talking to Hamas” and on the way to “not ignoring an elected government” — and then to proceed to refrain from regularly and often condemning the terrorism this government uses as a tactic. THAT is the problem with your facile PC positon. You’ve arrogated to yourself the position that some high state official would have to take to live in the world as if you are in the same business; you’ve then crippled yourself from speaking out against Hamas because you’ve taken a RealPolitik position. Pro-tip: RealPolitik positions can succeed when the interlocutors can point to demonstrators outside the gates more radical than they.

And of course, it goes without saying that to characterize these elections as “free or fair” and therefore the thugs in power as legitimate, is stretching the truth in outrageous ways that pure and decent activists aren’t suppose to engage in. This “elected government” sham is about as legitimate as saying that Algeria’s fundamentalists, once they were “elected” were legitimate – and it fetishizes elections even more than the U.S. government does, which is saying quite a lot.

The diva’s lament — “Don’t you know who I ammmm?” — is as unacceptable a debating tactic as claiming your opponent is “confused”.

And right back at you, because if you’re going to oppose my positions, at least reflect them accurately. I didn’t say you “shilled for Obama”. I said you, as a good progressive, no doubt worked in your way for his victory, and were happy to see it. For example, I did my little part, I went to the women’s receptions and got the stickers and signed the petitions and got on the mailing lists and voted for Obama. You’re saying you didn’t do that much? Oh, ok. I’ve been more critical all along than you, even though when you say your first duty is to criticize your government, I didn’t hear you on a lot of issues…

As for the Peace Now Settlement Tracker — can we take your bash on me for assuming anything as actually now a *position* from you that you believe this API is one-sided because it ignores East Jerusalem — or more to the point, ignores the violent side of this conflict, which isn’t settlements, but terrorist acts and missile launches? Good!

Oh, no, I haven’t checked you out for the first time, but why engage in detective work, Jillian? Just explain your views. You, Ethan, and Evgeny have taken very morally-comfortable and convenient views — you listen to the nearly-hysterical calls of Arab bloggers not to accept US government aid, or cooperate with State, and to boycott those groups that decide to accept such aid or relationships, you exclaim that their arguments have merits, and then…you put it as a philosophical interogatory, as if that’s all the bases you need to touch, to ensure your Arab street cred and ensure they keep inviting you to meetings at State.

Well, which is it? Can’t you develop a position? You could use email and Twitter to accelerate the process.

So, you’re not able to read the statement as a putative description of the philosophical position of this Center, and distract from the presence or absence of such a *principled position* to go looking for some actual terrorist scurrying in the bushes.

So, um, Jon? Can we put you down then as having the position that Global Voices specifically, and Berkman Center more broadly, should not publish those who use or advocate violence?

Please spell out your attitude on the principle here at stake: whether or not blogging platforms should be open to those who espouse violent causes, or who accept violence or terrorism as a tactic. For example, Hamas or Al Qaeda or their supporters.

Because what’s important isn’t whether there’s some terrorist to be found or not found; what’s important is whether you and Berkman and other progressives have a position that yes, it’s ok to include bloggers who call for violence or support terrorism — yes or no.


No, I reject that concept utterly, as a facile and leftist kneejerking of the “You’re a McArthyite” sort.

I’ll tell you what’s a chill, Jon — what’s a chill is when groups and individuals who espouse violence are accepted into polite company — liberal company that in fact doesn’t support violence — and yet everyone feels it is politically incorrect to call it out.

If you’ve got a refined sense of revulsion to turn on at every occasion and call me “unseemly,” where’s your revulsion for the support of violence!

That’s how we got the truly awful spectacle of Amnesty International refusing to make distinctions about the need to defend Guantanamo victims of torture, yet not disassociate from some of their radical and violent views. This is what prompted the gender advisor of Amnesty International to blow the whistle on the moral slide and ultimately leave AI:

That’s how we get absolutely no one asking the question about why the flotilla supporters could plan and expect and even incite violence, but no one ever questioning their policies:

And again, it’s about adopting a principled position: we do not use or advocate violence and we don’t support those who use or advocate violence.

If you want to take the moral cop-out, as Amnesty did, and say “We have a range of views among us including some people who support armed struggle or defensive jihad” — a concept that cloaks violence in some Marxist notion of “a people’s revolutionary struggle,” then fine, that’s ok, do so.

I don’t mind that people take different positions on whether they think violence is legitimate in civil struggles; what I do mind is when they won’t tell the truth about it or duck under whines about McArthyism and “chills” and “singling out groups” as a distraction.

I don’t view that as the “chill” as noted — the real chill is the absolute pall over the entire question of the legitimacy of Palestinian “NGOs” by refusing to grasp this nettle regarding their endorsement of violence.

Catherine, this comment is beyond what I have time or capacity to read and respond to at the moment. Your condescension is also rather unbecoming.

Consider this comment my last (in this thread, anyway). I won’t apologize for its brevity.

Rather than *telling* me that you are all precious snowflakes, why not *say* what your critique of Morozov is or distinguish *your* take on Moldova from Ethan’s dismissiveness.

I have never claimed expertise on Moldova. I have used it as an example only, perhaps even misguidedly. I have never written a blog post on the subject itself, and I will not elaborate further.

In fact, the very vibrant presence of people from these countries in the blogosphere attests to this. I don’t hear *THEM* yammering about this “expert controls” issue, I only hear you in the U.S.

Then you’re not listening. The Syrian blogospheres, both Arabic and English, have said plenty over the years, and continue to do so. If they told me they supported export controls and asked me to stop, then I would; thus far, I’ve received only encouragement. I am not asking for removal of all export controls (such as those on airplane parts), rather, I am stating that the export controls that limit downloadable software are absurd and affect the very people the US is supposedly trying to help. I’ve also spoken to Iranian and Sudanese bloggers, who are in agreement on this issue, even if they support sanctions otherwise.

And yes, Microsoft’s position on the export controls seems reasonable enough. LinkedIn, however, misunderstood the export controls at first and blocked 5 (or more) countries from accessing their services until Syrian bloggers protested (yes, I was involved), leading to a change in policy from the site. The fact of the matter is, the export controls are opaque and misleading, and often lead to overblocking.

I’m not going to speak further about export controls here, because I’ve written about the ways in which they affect ordinary citizens plenty of times on this blog. It seems clear from your objections that you haven’t read my previous articles on the subject.

So, oh, that’s what you *hated* — when everyone rushed to fastrack a software not invented in your Tor, etc. circles and not approved by you.

I’ve never once stated agreement that I believe Haystack was fast-tracked, rather, I questioned the logic of making it easy for an unvetted circumvention tool to get to Iran, when a chat tool (such as MSN Messenger) can’t get a license for Syria (and yes, I realize it’s possible they never applied). I think that’s a fairly reasonable position to take. I don’t think it’s reasonable to limit the use of innocuous communications technologies in other countries.

The diva’s lament — “Don’t you know who I ammmm?” — is as unacceptable a debating tactic as claiming your opponent is “confused”.

Lastly, I did not lament anything along the lines of “don’t you know who I am?” Rather, I am surprised you do know who I am. I do not have the blog hits or the reputation that Ethan Zuckerman has, so yes, I am actually genuinely surprised that you had read my blog prior to today.

Catherine, two last things, consider them a “p.s.”: Your worldview is fundamentally different from mine, and you’re unlikely to see satisfactory answers to many of your questions here. Second, I work at the Berkman Center, but I am also an activist and a writer. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Arab world, and that’s where many of my friends are. So when I comment on issues related to it, some of which undoubtedly cross paths with my work at Berkman (since that’s what I do all day), I’m still commenting as myself, not as the institution for which I work. And I am thankful every day that I work for such an open-minded institution that doesn’t object to my writing about those issues.

jillian not sure how to reply to a reply so will just do it here

I’d never strip anyone of agency. I’ll say I agree with the statement about arabs taking funds know what they are doing in the sense that they make their own choices based on their own analysis. they are not being fooled. (though there are situations where they don’t have the full information and some rare cases mostly involving very young people where they are just naive).

so saad el din ibrahim is no fool, he knows very well what he is doing. which includes working with neocons and zionists, making claims like bush’s democratization policy is greatly missed etc.

but he also doesn’t see his interests as being in direct conflict with american ruling class interests. and he hardly has the need to work with people who do.

meh I’m tired of discussing this line anyway. as far as I can see there is no crisis of finance among opposition forces and activists that makes this an important topic. there is no urgency and necisity to it.


Nice way to keep the upper hand — declare that *I’m* the condescending one merely because I disagree with you and won’t be persuaded — when *you* are the one who called me “confused” — now is *that* condescending or what!. Do you ever have debates among you? Or do you only have mutually reinforcing self admiration societies?

My statement was clear and you know it — and now you’re ducking and weaving again with saying you don’t represent an organization where you are employed. The idea that Berkman isn’t in the business of advocacy is quite the statement — I’ll have to remember that every time I see the numerous public policy positions you take and disseminate forcefully through the blogosphere, conference circuit — and halls of power.

And that’s exactly why I take you on; you aren’t really authentically debating and researching and inquiring into a topic when you are all taking such partisan positions. Although I wish university research institutes would be more pluralistic in their approach, it’s ok to take partisan positions, so stop pretending that you aren’t.

Everyone knows that Berkman founded and funded Global Voices and retain ideological kinship with them. Why is there always this tapdancing, where you first always tell critics that Global Voices is now a free-standing organization (great!) and now Berkman doesn’t even fund GV anymore (why?)? You might want to tell GV to take the Berkman logo off the section of their website that shows “our founders,” then. But really, what is this about? Do you distance yourself so that you can still retain influence and subtle controls, but plausible deniability when it comes to issues like violence?

But wait. Like Human Rights Watch, which keeps a “violence is ok in case of genocide” policy on the shelf as an abstraction, and Amnesty which says “we have a range of views including support of armed struggle and defensive jihad,” are you saying that you can only conceive of the debate about violence as one for states and state-aspiring movements, and never NGOs and institutes? *About their own* use or advocacy of violence as a solution to any ill?

You don’t have a policy on whether or not a citizen’s group or a non-governmental group or an individual should use or advocate violence? Let me suggest that’s exactly what’s wrong with a lot of the civic activity around these days. Indeed, it’s a simple matter and your claim that it is too grey and too complex is merely a desire to have your cake and eat it, too: to continue to play with the cool kids and be accepted by the radicals of the Arab and other developing world blogosphere and feel as if “share their struggles” but not actually have to face them down on some of the odious ideologies they have — which indeed do involve taking the position that violent struggle is acceptable — the kind of position that in fact led to the people being killed when they deliberately sailed into a blockage on the Gaza flotilla. It’s a new theory of direct action that I find particularly reprehensible — taunt and bait an armed state into committee indiscrimitate fire, then playing the victim, all the while pretending that one is just engaged in innocent humanitarian relief action.

You distinguish between Al Qaeda and Hezbollah? That sounds like a terribly nuanced and progressive position, Jillian, but I’m sorry I’m skeptical. I doubt their victims see the position as as nuanced as you do.

I bring up Israel merely because it’s the elephant in the room with you at Berkman and Global Voices. I’m told that the head of GV supports a one-state solution and and the return of all refugees (which would dilute and obliterate the Jewish state so that becomes a legitimate question of survival). Is that true? How do you feel about this issue? Oh, I realize you won’t say — that’s fine.

I sure do advocate nonviolence — absolutely — for civic movements. That’s what this discussion is about around Gladwell: *citizens’ movements*. Remember? Martin Luther King eschewed violence, and said sowing violence would reap a whirlwind, remember? Was his policy wrong? Nelson Mandela condoned violence and is still reaping that whirlwind.

Palestine isn’t a state — not yet. It’s a movement and an authority that might become a state, but likely not until it does indeed renounce terrorism in a negotiated settlement. I fail to see why I need to condone the violence of a non-state or any civic movement, whatever its victim status — that’s a sterile and ultimately nihilist argument that says you can shoot your way to power and then expect flowers afterward.

Do I think states have a right to use force? Yes, they do to protect themselves, and it doesn’t need me to have an opinion on this, as this is an accepted position of international law and the UN Charter. I’m not concerned with deciding abstractly or concrete how/when a states uses force; that’s why there’s what we call “parliament” or “Congress” to debate and decide these things and not just “think tanks,” Jillian. But my patch is civil society, so I do care terribly what civil society groups do, and here, *even if* you can demonstrate that Israel has used disproportionate force — and many human rights groups believe they can — I am not for condoning the violence of *non-state* or *civic* movements, and certainly not bloggers. That’s a perfectly fine moral position, and your fisking around it is so noted.

As for murders of Palestinian children, who could not condemn the murder of a child?! But I’d like to see what your cases are, and whether these are the usual tendentious riots claiming that the IDF are baby-killers when I don’t see that they have any such policy or practice. If you can find a case where an Israeli soldier has wantonly and deliberately murdered a Palestinian child, the way Palestinian terrorists have wantonly and deliberately bombed Israeli childrens and other civilians, let’s have it. But likely it will be a story more complicated than the simplistic and deliberate terrorists acts, and involve the problem of how you use the magical Human Rights Watch “proportionate force” in instances when the terrorists hide within the population and take the war to residential areas.

Basically, I come away with this particular debate noting that once again, a leftist has hid behind the fact that Israel does commit human rights violations in its wars against terrorists and its counterinsurgency, and failed to take a moral position on the terrorists themselves.

I’m happy to take any corrections on the facts regarding what Syrian bloggers say as I know very little about them, but I have followed Syria at the UN and at the treaty bodies and I have to raise the question of whether bloggers in this oppressive country refrain from commenting about export controls, or take a “progressive position” on them, because of *fear* and a belief that more moderate positions will “get them somewhere”. Understood.

It’s an interesting question, something like Linked In. Should that company follow U.S. policy and block the use of its platform in oppressive countries? Oh, I think they should, when it comes to a short list of really deadly ones — Syria, Iran, North Korea, Belarus and some others. Are there some where maybe it’s a judgement call? For example, with Cuba, it’s long since time to end the embargo and simply love bomb the island, in the way peaceniks lovebombed the Soviet Union with all their goofy people-to-people exchanges and fellow-travelling trips — and in the end, helped bring down the Soviet Union, too. Cuba has no obvious struts to support it; it’s time to bring it back into the community of nations in the Southern hemisphere and work to get this aging tyrannical regime moving on into history. That’s not to say that a very sturdy resistance to Cuban Marxist manipulations at the UN and in the world press shouldn’t be continued; indeed, it will be an even fiercer ideological battle. But it should be one fought as we restore trade and tourism and let people make a buck there and start to restore their health and sanity.

But with Syria, I don’t see that a few Linked In accounts of a few bloggers are worth opening up to the entire regime to go around and network with their ill intentions. Yeah, I get it that it’s the Internet, but I think it’s ok to take a stand, and other ways can be found to support the networking of Syrian democrats than having to turn over programs and platforms for the government to hack and exploit.

I simply can’t get behind your valiant struggle to overturn the blocking of five countries by Linked In because I’d have to see what other options there were for not having to relent and support the regimes in this way. I think there would have to be a long and very pluralistic debate about how Linked In could manage to keep a ban in place not to help the Syrian regime, but enable those people who want to link to specific Syrian bloggers to do so. There’s something pretty distasteful about a crusade that gives a big win to the Syrian regime on “normalizing them” despite their backing of terrorism and the killing of civilians in Iraq and torture of their own people, just to give a few moderates a chance to show off their resumes. I’m not quite getting this, but maybe I need re-education…

I guess I’m not worrying that the Revo is stalled due to…MSN chat not being allowed to be licensed for Syria. Again, if those at State weighed this and found on balance, making the regime and its agents able to network and get around more to do the murderous things they do was not worth it for the sake of a few people in an Internet cafe, well, I don’t find this as reprehensible as you do. It really seems like a terribly fake issue, however. Long before there was Twitter or MSN messenger, people supported Syrian dissidents. They will go on supporting them and it’s all good.

What’s scary is that you would find my worldview “fundamentally” different than yours — and that would mean that in fact you are that far out on the left. And worse — that it means that I “can’t find answers to questions” — as if you can’t give them, or only give them to your fellow like-minded cheerleaders. This is terribly stunting and stultifying — and so typical of the university’s mono-culture these days. As for this “open-minded institution,” you discourage debate by calling those who disagree “confused,” and your pals line up here with the usual forums tricks. Berkman seems to have positions that go from A to…B. But I look forward to studying them.

As for Terry, disagreeing with people who can’t seem to articulate a full-throated condemnation of violence — except when practiced by the state of Israel — isn’t about being “angry” and “vindictive” — it’s about debating a position that seems indefensible morally.

Catherine, in reading your comments here and the blog you linked to, you sound like a bitch. Not that you’re wrong in all cases (I agree partly with your take on TED), but you seem to have a serious issue arguing points without making personal attacks.

As someone who is nearly uninvolved in any kind of activism, I enjoy reading the perspectives of those that are, especially thoughtful conversations that focus on the issues instead of the people involved. You apparently think the opposite.

Shut up. You’ve ruined what was a fantastic discussion with some weird viewpoint that regardless of legitimacy, is insulting. YOU are why people think bloggers are crazy. Why Jillian hasn’t blocked you is a mystery to me.

Perhaps you should consider Second Life or one of your seven blogs as a better opportunity to spread your brand of crazy.

Catherine Fitzpatrick, former Executive Director of the International League for Human Rights, maybe I would agree with you. But not here. You have completely hijacked this discussion.

You have asserted above that there are “terrorists among the bloggers” and that folks here support them. You have your own blog, so feel free to list them there, and then we netfolk can exercise our freedom to decide whether your charges have merit, and whether we indeed associate with them.

From your Wikipedia page, you appear to have an impressive record advocating for human rights. But based on your interaction here, you’ve left many with the impression that you are a tortured soul.

Er, Jon, simmer down, read my post again, stop being a bully, and stop being a Google witch-hunter and fisking and frisking in emotional agitation and try to debate the issue on its merits rather than playing fake gotcha games.

Here’s what I’ve written, again:

“Most gravely troubling is something that you are never called out about publicly, and should be. The Berkman Center’s (or is it just you and Ethan as individual) unwillingness to condemn violent movements and terrorists among the bloggers you support is truely unseemly”

And that stands. And it definitely means a public policy, and a principled position, not a claim that there *are* terrorists, but an unwillingness to condemn them *should* they appear. And that’s clear — and that’s because of the “policy of inclusiveness” that Ethan has articulated.

It’s not about “lists,” it’s about a tacit unwillingness not to condemn them when/if/should they appear out of an uneasiness with taking them on, due to what is described by Ethan as a policy of “inclusiveness”.

I think it would be helpful if you look at what originated my concerns about this, which were some rather casual and disturbing remarks from Ethan (and here Jillian will plead that she is completely unrelated to Ethan, uninfluenced, and distinct from Ethan, but I’m not accepting that claim).

Here, on his blog in April, Ethan lets us know that Global Voices has a “more inclusive” policy than another group which he opposes called, which has a position to support what Ethan calls a “subset” of dissidents who are for democracy and for emphatically opposing violence — implying there’s a “super set” that is for violence and against democracy that he in fact is for tolerating. Here’s what he says, regarding his opposition to Keyes:

“…he’s interested in amplifying a subset of middle eastern dissidents who espouse a specific philosophy of democracy, open governance and a rejection of violence, while projects like Global Voices focus on amplifying all voices, taking care that our platform not become a space for incitement to violence.”

[the context for this is parsing the Bush Conference, that caused Zuckerman no small amount of pressure from his Arab friends, and a belief that any group that featured dissidents in the Arab world without their consent would be doing something wrong — a belief that I have to marvel about *on the Internet* promoted by *social media gurus*. Mind you, we’re not talking *copyright* here, something I’m all for respecting more than some of the Berkmanites seem willing to articulate, but that’s not the debate. The debate here is that unless you are politically-correct and an ideologically-like-minded comrade of this or that Arab blogger, you can’t experss support for them, reference their suffering, ask your government to raise their case, etc. I find that completely untenable and in any event, impossible to enforce.]

So here’s what I say in response to Ethan, which I’ll reprint:

As this topic comes up repeatedly, I think it would be good to ponder what your position on violence really is *specifically*.

Your ambivalence here about cyberdissidents helps set up the smear that later Sami Ben Gharabi indulges in, so I think it’s good to revisit this issue in a broader context.

You say:

>specifically, he’s interested in amplifying a subset of middle eastern dissidents who espouse a specific philosophy of democracy, open governance and a rejection of violence, while projects like Global Voices focus on amplifying all voices, taking care that our platform not become a space for incitement to violence. B


I guess I’m having a problem seeing what’s wrong with David Keyes’ approach. If anything, his approach seems broader to me than the narrow subset of “progressives” and anti-Americans that you select to amplify, while remaining colour blind on the violence issue. But I’m not interested in picking at this or that blogger; I’m interested in hearing your fundamental, principled positions.

So are you saying that Global Voices doesn’t reject violence and doesn’t refrain from promoting undemocratic writers, exactly? Unlike David Keyes, who does feature writers that do promote democracy and reject violence — and for that reason isn’t too your liking and makes you uncomfortable, which you describe as “not being inclusive”.

Are you saying that you are open to “amplifying all voices”, including those that espouse philosophies like armed struggle, or “defensive jihad” as an abstract notion, but that you sort of, on a case by case basis, take a look and see if in fact there isn’t really a call to incitement, as in the Supreme Court test of “incitement to imminent violent action”?

Or…just exactly what *are* you saying?

Are you saying you want to posture and appear more “inclusive” than David Keyes, regarding the set of dissidents you publish (which is “all”), but then you also want the moral luxury of ducking from actually having to confront what it means to be open even to Hamas or Al Qaeda and their supporters?

It seems to me that you are, not only in the name of open spaces and free speech, but in the name of leftist progressive beliefs and opinions, making a tacit support of armed revolutionary struggle or even “terrorism as defensive jihad”.

Could you give us an example of any “incitement to violence” on Global Voices you stopped?

Because that’s the question. The task isn’t for us to go hunting for “terrorists” on GV, the question is to see if you have a moral and articulated policy.

I don’t think you do. I think violence is to be condemned, that there is nothing radical chic or cool about being coy with regard to the jihadists, and posturing around that to enable yourself to keep Arab street cred isn’t defensible.


So let’s have it Jon. Do you support the idea of including terrorists and jihadists and those advocating violent struggle among the “amplified voices” on “Global Voices” — or not? The question isnt’ to shake the bushes find them, or claim that I’ve found them, or claim falsely that I’ve said that is what I wish to do — which I haven’t. The question is to debate *the principle* of that matter — that is, if you are capable of reasoning conceptually and abstractly rather than dissolving into Internet gotchas.

As for “feel free to list them there, and then we netfolk can exercise our freedom to decide whether your charges have merit, and whether we indeed associate with them” — I’m going to get out my barf bag for that smarmy phrase “netfolk” that sound like wee faires in the glen. But…I’m not in the blacklisting business, unlike some suprising colleagues who advocate making whitelists and therefore blacklists as a byproduct, but if I do find someone who advocates violence, I strenuously call it out and oppose it as I have in discussions like this one:

But sure, keep trying to goad me into somehow doing something illiberal like making a hit list, instead of debating the principle of the matter, and see if it ultimately doesn’t discredit you.

As for my Wikipedia page, it was created in the first place as part of an assault on my by the 4chan spinoff in Second Life called Woodbury University, and is an act of vandalism. When Wikipedia editors outside the loop even questioned why there even be an entry, the vandals then scurried around trying to drag every publication and translation and organizational affiliation they could find, some of it outdated or inaccurate, to make it appear “authentic,” in order to be able to engage in their real purpose, which was to spout about Woodbury, griefing, and my anticommunist opposition to the open-software movement.

But keep Googling, maybe — because you can’t accept that I have less than an enthusiastic take on the pro-Palestinian movement — you can dredge up the 4chan Encyclopedia Dramatic bit about how I adopted children from Soviet Russia in order to eat them, or how I am being maintained by the CIA in a special half-way housing for the mentally ill near Bellevue. The Internet is a strange and wondrous thing. P.S. I don’t like cats.

I’m not a tortured soul for insisting on the values with which we in the international human rights movement succeeded in our causes 30 years ago, which was not to accept as our colleagues of conscience those who advocated or used violence, in order to make a citizens’ movement that could confront abusive states morally. Indeed, what is tortured is the logic that makes a young person like you hound me for this moral position.

Maybe I should let the Internet gods of irony handle this one without comment:

You say this:

“Catherine, in reading your comments here and the blog you linked to, you sound like a bitch…
Perhaps you should consider Second Life or one of your seven blogs as a better opportunity to spread your brand of crazy”

and then you say this with a straight face:

“you seem to have a serious issue arguing points without making personal attacks.”


I fail to see why disagreeing with the status quo received wisdom on the leftosphere is “making personal attacks” but there is never anything that persuades the neuralgics that get into a fury when their belief system is challeneg significantly that it isn’t “personal”. I haven’t called anyone a bitch; I haven’t said they were crazy; I didn’t say they fat and lived in a basement and that’s why they had their strange views.

No, I just asked them if they oppose violence or not and could articulate their positions on this, because this is a debate where Malcolm Gladwell says that movements like the civil rights movement of the 1960s is the only sort of authentic movement and that getting clubbed over the head is our only authentic participation — and I challenge that and in fact so did Jillian, and I could even bring a bit of Marxist analysist to this (or page Guy Debord) and ask whether movements that succeed in affluent states that are under the rule of law (or let’s call it “neoliberal capitalist states”) that are not crushed and succeed are authentic, but movements against theocratic monoliths are doomed and shouldn’t even try, especially not on twitter.

You’ve made some weird constraints, suggesting that the Palestinian rally that I interrupted here is the last word on the subject, and that any other view but those you’re comfortable with from the twitterati at Berkman is “weird” and “insulting” even by its existence (!).

Shut up? Oh, maybe I need to page Ray Bradbury.

God, so many brillant minds dead or soon to die, and what is their legacy among the young today? A reprimand to “shut up” and a call to be “locked out”.

Global Voices indeed!

Hey, I’m not claiming to be above personal attacks. In fact, I’m all about personal attacks on you, as I think you deserve it. Perhaps then you’ll realize that you’re not contributing anything to the conversation, but it is very naive of me to think you’d take that to heart.

I called you a bitch and I called you crazy. I’ve read your other blogs and it’s filled with the same shit you’re posting here.

You’re the dinner guest that seems to not understand that they’re brand of conversation isn’t welcome.

as far as I can see there is no crisis of finance among opposition forces and activists that makes this an important topic.

Oh, I agree with you there, undoubtedly. I asked because these funding orgs will no doubt continue to exist. You know – I’m just wondering if there is a way to, at very least, influence the manner in which such organizations deal with activists in the region. If you can’t “beat them” so to speak, at least educate them?

I’m just tossing thoughts around.

let’s try replying here.

I have no answer to your question, it is about very localized US politics which I know nothing about (and frankly don’t interest me at all). thats on a personal level but I think no activists from outside the US should be concerning themselves with these questions either. it’s up to you and other american citizen (including arab and other diasporas).

in fact I think the tainting that happens when you try to reform US foreign policy and aid spending is much more dangerous than the taint from accepting the money or participating in shared projects. you need to sit down and talk to people using twisted US language and logic. you need to argue about terrorism (a word I hardly ever need to use in arabic for instance), find proof for how Pakistanis don’t like drones killing them, discuss how muslim life is not cheap, argue about the role of twitter instead of how people where actually mobilized, act as if clay shirkey matters, treat 3d bloggers as if they exist within the realm of human reason, etc.

this is all an utter waste of time, and once you start you don’t notice how much you get sucked in. live within these debates long enough and you start believing they are the most relevant things ever (and then you end up being hoder, mona al tahawy or saad el din ibrahim). with each step your frame of reference is twisted, the way you view your own world is changed and any local relevance you might have hoped to have is destroyed.

you also loose track of the fact that the US is the enemy. no one would ever suggest taking israeli money to finance activities aiming at democratic reform in Egypt and then pretend that that’s just being smart and subversive using the zionist money to change zionism from inside (well abu mazen and co might say so but who wants to be counted among them).

Excellent tactical troll, Catherine, though leaning toward the gratuitously voluminous and brutal. I give you +8 :) Trolling perceived ‘leftist’ blogs with imperialist reactionary twaddle is a tried and true gratifying pastime for some.

Nostalgically, I’ll quote from the delightful Cappy Hamper Troll Faq (substitue blog for newsgroup):

‘There are two basic troll species. Those with overactive minds (busy
brain, ADHD, whatever you want to call it) constantly seek out new
sources of mental stimuli. For these, myself included, newsgoup satire
acts as a sort of *Mental Floss*.

And there are those who are permanently disgruntled, or “physically
short changed” in some way and seek out ways to compensate for their
shortcomings through vicious personal attacks against others in order
to achieve a *Mental Erection*.’

BTW I see in your wikipedia entry that you supposedly liken communision to fascism and that a citation is needed. Perhaps you could elucidate?

I realize that I’m late coming to this discussion, but as a long-time activist in what used to be called the peace movement, I must point out a couple of things. First, in response to Tyler H. — 40 years ago people *were* aware of conflicts in the Middle East. And any changes in public awareness and knowledge have far less to do with social media than with the growth of human rights organizations (esp Human Rights Watch), plus small but influential institutions like MERIP (publisher of Middle East Report), and new generations of academics (like Juan Cole).

Plus, Tyler should consider exactly how social media — or most any blogger — educates people: by summarizing and linking to old-fashioned articles in mass media publications that pay people to do reporting. (Btw, Malcolm Gladwell, however, is not a reporter. He’s really a blogger w/ a prestigious platform: The New Yorker. He’s does very little if any, investigative research in the style of trained reporters. Instead, he just comments on studies and articles that are already published. As bloggers do.)

Finally, and most importantly, I think we should all remind ourselves that the Obama campaign used activity points to encourage real-world, off-line activism, and to discourage activism that was limited to online activities.

For example, posting a blog earned a person 3 points, but knocking on a door earned a person 10 points. (And, the results of door-to-door canvassing were logged using an online tool, providing another example of the ways the campaign used online technology to further the offline activism that mattered most.)

Rahaf Harfoush explains this in his 2009 book on the campaign’s use of social media, ‘Yes We Did’: “Within MyBO, the mandate was very clear: use the online tools to organize offline action. From the profile that asked you to describe why you supported Obama to the action center that directed users to areas of priority, offline action was constantly reinforced. “

[…] Pour Jillian C. York du Berkman Center for Internet & Society, l’activisme numérique ne s’oppose pas, mais est plutôt complémentaire de l’activisme traditionnel. En traçant une ligne de démarcation entre l’activisme en ligne et hors ligne, Gladwell rend “un mauvais service à la fois à l’utilité des outils numérique et à la résilience de l’action sociale traditionnelle”. […]

[…] Jillian C. York at Harvard’s Berkman Center neatly pegs Gladwell’s objections by noting that “digital activism has been construed as its own movement, a new wave of organizing unique to the 21st century digital world,” when “in fact, digital tools are complementary to ‘traditional’ activism.” This is precisely the online/offline integration that we advocate alongside Beth Kanter, Allison Fine, and many others. This echoes the transition in thinking about the Internet as a whole, which began by regarding online activity as a foreign and otherworldly “cyberspace” but has now become far more grounded as social networking sites, location-based services and augmented-reality applications connect the web to the physical. […]

hi everyone taking part in this discussion .
first of all i would like to congratulate you all for this rich and fruitful discussion . i personally learnt a lot from you all. i’m not going to leave any comments in here , but i’m going to leave a request if you don’t mind.
i’m going to start my M.A thesis very soon , i decided to work on cyberactivism which i consider a very prominent issue that is still unknown , though practised by so many NGOs, here in Morocco.
As you know any research needs some review of the literature , in addition to other research componets. i’ll be very much thankful to you if you could help me with some resources for my research on cyberactivism . i’ll be also very much pleased to talk to anyone from this group who has worked on the same issue . im all ears to your suggestions .
you can e mail me to my personal e mail .
best regards

I loved this post until the last two paragraphs. I question whether the U.S. has any room to tell other countries about freedom and oppression given our own internal struggles, and the growing view of America as an imperialist power with its ongoing wars. Tunisia as an example had very little U.S. support in its current revolution, yet used the tools that Gladwell decried. Chinese dissidents survive on the interwebs, without U.S. assistance. Not sure we’re the right country to be injecting policy into the web.

Hmm – well, the last two paragraphs were meant as open questions (as I stated), so I don’t know what’s not to like. I’m expressly inviting you to give me your thoughts :)

I agree absolutely that US support is not NEEDED, or even wanted by activists. But the money is nevertheless going to be deployed; what I’m asking is: should we be trying to influence how the US spends their “Internet freedom” dollars? Should we be improving their efforts, or is it better to ignore them entirely?

You know, you people are really TOTALLY disingenuous with this “U.S. was silent about Tunisia” meme that Morozov and others are disseminating. If the U.S. *did* speak out in support of Tunisian democracy activists, why, you all would pile on and accuse them of “the kiss of death” and actually harming democracy. So you’re never happy — the U.S. stays out of it, and you call it passive and weak; it speaks out, and you accuse it of harm and hypocrisy. So shame on you, you’re the hypocrites.

Chinese dissidents in fact do get help from the U.S., both government and private, and are glad to have it. They don’t have anything near the squeamishness you lefties do about U.S. aid. After all, it’s not as if this is “Moscow gold” — it’s the money from taxpayers of a liberal democratic state. If you don’t think the U.S. is a liberal democratic state, then you apparently don’t travel abroad much to other parts of the world.

Imperialist power? Please. These ongoing wars are more a sign of waning influence and weakness than they are of “growing imperialism” — precisely because they are ongoing. And as usual, you who rush with your microscopes to America’s sins and remain grossly negligent about the sins of Iran and others who support terrorism — and the Taliban and the terrorists themselves! — you really have no plan that anyone can back rationally. You have no plan for the terrorists, who will come for you next even if you succeed in making a lovely lefty transnational world government — or whatever it is you’re trying to make in approximation.

The U.S. is silent about a lot of things — Egypt, China, Russia, and only occasionally has Hillary Clinton speak out in contrast to Obama’s silence. This is a conscious policy, and has been since Obama’s Cairo speech. The USG does a lot of quiet diplomacy, and they pursue various strategies they think they will work, i.e. promoting Tunisia’s relative democracy by contrast with other Middle Eastern regimes, which of course, sets them up to look stupid, just as backing Gorbachev looked stupid when Yeltsin came along. Perestroika is seldom a solution.

I’ll tell you what. I’m waiting with utter fascination to see how these male bloggers coming to power now are going to come out on the question of women’s rights and other civil rights. And I’m waiting to see if they are merely a weak provisional government for a time before Islamic fundamentalists take over that they had trouble keeping out. As you all do. Maybe this time will be different — we’ll see.

Excuse me? The US was silent about Tunisia for more than 23 years. Yes, I do think it was perhaps a bit too late to come out publicly, but do you honestly think the US is right to prop up aging dictators in the Middle East and North Africa?

As for your “point” about male bloggers and women’s rights, you’re showing your prejudice. What the hell do you know about Tunisians?

Excuse me right back at you, Jillian. I’m not applauding U.S. policy on Tunisia — something I’ve never done — I’m merely *explaining it* as in *their eyes* something that somehow rewarded one regime they thought was more democratic by praising it overly to contrast it with regimes that were worse. We’ve all seen Hillary land in Tunisia and do this, and frankly, we’ve seen some of your WSIS friends land in Tunisia and do the same thing. And as I clearly stated above, this sort of uncritical support is like support for Gorbachev and perestroika — it’s supporting something that in fact isn’t liberal and in fact won’t last because it’s an imitation. So that was clear, and you’re nasty comment here is unwarranted, as per usual.

I used to work for Committee to Protect Journalists, and then as now, there was always a very strong protest against the suppression of Tunisian bloggers. And that’s the right thing to do, but nothing says that just because a blogger is under fire that we don’t get to comment on the possible negative sides of his politics. In fact, we will never see any better politics unless we *are* free to comment openly on some of the questionable aspects of the Arab dissident world.
For example, I’m able to condemn outrageous Chechen terrorists at the Moscow metro or airport; I’m able to criticize morality police in Chechnya, yet I’m also able to criticize the Kremlin’s policies in the Caucasus and Kadirov’s brutal rule. I *can* walk and chew gum at the same time! Can you?!

My “prejudices” are nothing of the sort. They’re based on ample evidence of how revolutions turn out, and they are absolutely legitimate questions to be asking.

We all know about Tunisia, now, Jillian, thanks to social media. We *all* have more information Tunisia than we know what to do with, and yes, we all get to discuss it, and yes, we all get to ask questions and debate it. Er, that’s what Internet freedom is all about, you know?

So you’re not special. Does that challenge you profoundly? I hope so. That’s what social media is supposed to be: disruptive to institutions and experts (like the Harvard Berkman Center, for example). Good!

I’ve seen too many revolutions in too many parts of the world run by male dissidents who turn out on the next day to suppress women’s rights not to speak out. And I’m right to do that, and you’re shameful in your silly attempts to discredit me merely for saying what needs to be said. And what you’d be saying, too, if you were about human rights, and not revolution.

BTW, I made the same point in a discussion at NYU last night with Gabriella Coleman, who was touting the wonders of 4chan Anonymous hacksters DDOSing Tunisian government sites and singing the praises of the Tunisian revolution. I said I will be tuning in after the dust settles to see how these male dissidents do with females and with civil rights in general for those who don’t think as they do — that’s always the test. And she looked shocked at my challenge, because she was imagining that everything was going to be wonderful in Tunisia, too. The journalist John Hockenberry made a comment that it was important for journalists to follow up and keep watching how it turns out precisely because of these kinds of concerns. But I guess it’s ok for credentialed male journalists to say this, and not uncredentialed female bloggers.

[…] Pour Jillian C. York du Berkman Center for Internet & Society, l'activisme numérique ne s'oppose pas, mais est plutôt complémentaire de l'activisme traditionnel. En traçant une ligne de démarcation entre l'activisme en ligne et hors ligne, Gladwell rend "un mauvais service à la fois à l'utilité des outils numérique et à la résilience de l'action sociale traditionnelle". […]

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