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Technology & Innovation

Social Media Pacify the Masses

In a study of recent protests across the Arab world, Yale researcher Navid Hassanpour found that crowds became more active when access to social media was cut by the government.

What’s the Latest Development?

Contrary to popular wisdom, new research suggests that Egyptians were more inspired to take to the streets this year after Hosni Mubarak’s government had cut access to social media. Yale researcher Navid Hassanpour asked, “How smart was the decision by the government of President Hosni Mubarak to completely shut down the Internet and cellphone service on Jan. 28, in the middle of the crucial protests in Tahrir Square? His conclusion was, not so smart, but not for the reasons you might think. ‘Full connectivity in a social network sometimes can hinder collective action,’ he writes.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Social media can work as the proverbial opiate of the masses, making people complicit with poor social conditions even while political action is organized across virtual communities. “To put it another way, all the Twitter posting, texting and Facebook wall-posting is great for organizing and spreading a message of protest, but it can also spread a message of caution, delay, confusion or, I don’t have time for all this politics, did you see what Lady Gaga is wearing?” Authoritarian governments have taken notice. Rather than cut Internet service outright, they have begun limiting bandwidth to restrict functionality. 


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