Permanent revolution by facebook is replacing ideology

Why are demos and riots breaking out all over? It’s the economy stupid. But Newsnight’s Paul Mason has a contemporary twist, writing in the Independent to give a taster for his book Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions’

Velocity of information matters as much as action itself. It is striking how badly the incumbent elites in each case totally lose the information war. Whether it’s Greece, Turkey, Egypt or Brazil the unspoken truth is it is hard to gain a voice in the official media unless you are part of the in-group. This creates the mindset that drove Egyptian TV to ignore Tahrir, and Turkish TV to replace 24-hour news with cookery programmes as the fighting raged outside their studios. But it doesn’t work. People have instant access not just to the words, stills and videos coming from the streets, but to publish it themselves. As a result, when crisis hits, the volume of “peer to peer” communication – your iPhone to my Android, my tweet to your uploaded video – overwhelms any volume of information a state TV channel can put out.

(Is Paul hinting that our own dear BBC – his main employer – is failing to do its job properly?)

Did we not see this happening in miniature with the running flags protests in Belfast?  But hold on,  is this really  as new as all that? Call me parochial but the running protests in Rio, Istanbul, Cairo and so on remind me of nothing so much as our student protests in 1968 and 69 until more sinister forces took over. These like the phenomena Mason identifies today were at first rebellions of the middle class disenfranchised,  the under or un-employed and the plain stirrers-up which swept Europe at the time, long before the IT revolution. The phone, the inky duplicator and instant RT networks were quite good enough to spread the word. During the Prague spring of 1968 it was TV that was subversive just by staying on air from moveable locations, long before sat vans.

And we can go further back, to post war surges, to 1848 and 1830 and the French revolution itself about which Tocqueville wrote that revolutions happen among people on the rise  and in a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end.

Whatever the technology it was the idea that used to count for most, even above tactics . Once protest was clearly ideologically labelled. One of the oddest phenomena of today is the lack of an ideological driver against globalisation, Big Brother scrutiny, the bankers, the incompetent  bureaucracy, you name it.

Today what do street protests stand for? Are they the flurries before the tsunami? Or  human surges that burn themselves out? The lack of ideology makes it even more difficult to respond, as we see governments caught on the hop  floundering  and exposed  all over the globe.  If  only it were possible to identify the tipping point, when protest becomes anarchy or revolution.  The cause, the political context and above all the outcomes, all matter more than the technology that fuels them. Although I do wonder how events would have turned out if we had had 24/7 live news in 1968 and 69.

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  • DoctorWho

    Hmmm it seems I need to revaluate my FB friends.

  • 1968 didn’t lead to governments that were more progressive than before. As a more detached Marxist analysis than is available from career-Marxists today would put it, ‘bourgeois insurrectionists with incoherent demands for direct democracy’ have still got a lot to learn from social democrats.

    I wish we could kill this notion that social media is always and everywhere a democratising force because it seems to be a common subtext.

  • sherdy

    DrWho – Don’t worry, GCHQ and Prism are already doing that, but unfortunately not for your, or my, benefit.

  • aquifer

    “Velocity of information matters as much as action itself”‘


    Fascists were great fans of velocity, as it produced disorientation among opponents who were not prepared for speedy cynical and systematic violence against humans.

    Like Rwanda, the Spanish fascists used radio a lot during their putsch, and language so blood curdling that newspapers would not transcribe it.

    Would many people believe FB over say the Beeb?

  • aquifer

    ” speedy cynical and systematic violence against humans”

    Oh. And against truth, first at the front line in any war.

  • tacapall

    “One of the oddest phenomena of today is the lack of an ideological driver against globalisation, Big Brother scrutiny, the bankers, the incompetent bureaucracy, you name it”

    Depending on which country you live in Mick, the internet can be turned off and on at the switch of a button, its only a matter of time before the British government do likewise and the technology they have at their fingertips to ensure the masses do as their told has never been more lethal.

    “Skynet rising: Google acquires 512-qubit quantum computer; NSA surveillance to be turned over to AI machines”

  • Mick Fealty

    Ce ata Mick ar an snáithe seo Tac? [some great questions Brian, Ill respond properly later in the day]…

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you, Paul Evans for calling a spade a spade! Most of the media commentators seem unable to see how social (and other!!!) media actively “mediate” human experience. John Thompson’s phrase “narrowing of symbolic cues” seems most appropriate here. Personal communication face to face offers far far more indication of meaning than the simple printed word. You pick up much less of what someone else actually means when they talk to you on the telephone. When you’re reading their texts or tweets you do not even get the cues in their voice inflections. But big echoing words like “freedom” mean something very,very different to the banker and developer on one hand and the dispossessed or powerless on the other. The same revolutionary language is appropriated by both sides to drive their own agendas, and no prizes for working out who always wins out in the end.

    In this context I find myself thinking of the old Marxist theme of judging all history as “cui Bono.” Social media is not free (in any sense whatsoever), it is there, like virtuslly everything else on the internet, to make money for someone. So, “the lack of an ideological driver against globalisation, Big Brother scrutiny, the bankers, the incompetent bureaucracy” is simply a measure of the success of the manipulation of the media by finance (who pays?) and established authority (who regulates?) I seem to remember that I mentioned Marcuse’s “One Dimentional Man” on much earlier threads. I still think that anyone who has read (and understood) Marcuse will not find the lack of an ideological driver at all odd.

  • tacapall

    Ta bron orm Mick, meant to say Brian.

  • Cric

    It may take a few more years, but I do think the likes of Facebook will have an effect on bigotry and ignorance. In the past people were able to form their opinions in relative solitude, around those who had similar social experiences to them – now if a person comes out with a horrendous group-think opinion on Facebook they are immediately shot down by moderates. Humans are social creatures and they care what their peers think, unpopular or controversial ideas will soon be dropped by most people, in favour of more socially acceptable lines.

    I think of the situation now where quite a few of my friends on Facebook come from both Nationalist and Unionist backgrounds. I temper my own conversation a lot of the time because upsetting friends is not conducive to good social status – and I’m also inclined to shoot down the friends who come out with their own bigotry (to save face a lot of the time for being associated with these people).

    In saying this there are obviously some very silly groups lingering on Facebook which promote all sorts of horrible doctrines, but in my experience people tend to point towards these groups while sniggering at their bigotry, rather than be seduced towards them.