In Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest, Zeynep Tufekci provides a novel analysis of the trajectories and fortunes of contemporary political movements in an age of social media platforms, mobile smartphones and big data.
Tufekci participated as an observer to and an activist within a number of anti-authoritarian movements (Tahrir Square in Egypt and Gezi Park in Istanbul to name a few). Through her field work, the author defines the new opportunities for action afforded by the digitally networked public sphere and explains how these affect the capacity of political movements to exert collective power. She also highlights how the digitally networked public sphere has also delivered new opportunities for those in power to counter progressive action.
This article will summarise Tufekci’s characterisation of the digitally networked public sphere and highlights several of the emergent features relevant to political action and protest. A following piece will address the implications of these features with respect to the trajectories of contemporary protest movements.
What is the digitally networked public sphere?
Throughout the book, Tufekci uses the term ‘digitally networked public sphere’ to describe the online space and digital tools that enable political action and organisation. This is not to designate the digital world as some place detached from the real world. Instead it is a continuation of the Habermassian conception of a public sphere where private individuals gather to engage in deliberation, decision-making and political action. At this point in history, social media platforms, blogging sites and smart phones constitute the infrastructure of the public sphere, where information abundance, mass connectivity, and non-hierarchical networks are the new major characteristics that define this digitally-mediated interaction.
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