Pi Attitude Zone: Ethics & Altruism

Protest Is Only A Click Away

The 1976 Hollywood movie Network was strangely prophetic, though you’d hardly have known it at the time.  The film’s story revolved around a network TV news anchorman called Howard Beale.  Shortly after getting fired, Beale has an on-camera mid-life crisis in the middle of his last show.  He exhorts his audience all over America to go stand by an open window, and shout “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more”.  Millions do exactly that, and a country-wide phenomenon is born.

The movie was made twenty years before the internet took off, but it eerily presaged a world in which protest movements would take to the ether and “go viral”. 

A case in point is Meu Rio (“My Rio”), which was backed by purpose.com, a kind of movements and petitions website that dedicates itself to citizens’ rights and public corruption issues.  In Rio de Janeiro a popular high school was to be demolished to accommodate new buildings for the Olympic Games, until the site provoked angry reactions.  After successfully nixing the school demolition program, the Meu Rio model is being expanded to other cities around the globe, spreading open-source tools for convening flash-mobs and campaigning online.  Purpose.com has made considerable noise and quite a few enemies, suggesting it is probably doing something right.

Activism on the internet (or “clicktivism”) is the new bullhorn for protest movements.  It’s even beginning to change the way politics works, giving issue-driven groups an alternative to street marches and the ballot box.  Nervous governments are trying to clamp down on internet freedoms, though it would be unwise to bet on their long-term chances.

Issues are being propagated at astonishing speed, picking up momentum as they go.  Protest groups no longer have to spend time organizing, they just set up a mailing list and launch into cyberspace.  Social media campaigns reach a vast audience, on a spectrum from the Occupy movement to the tea party.  And the traffic is two-way, soliciting instant feedback from a movement’s friends -- and enemies.

Such activities have started giving rise to political parties, such as Germany’s Pirate Party, which surged into existence around a Berlin election in 2011 and won fifteen seats in the regional assembly.  It now runs a non-stop online conference dubbed “Liquid Feedback”.  Participants can vote direct on issues, or hand their votes to third party proxies to be ‘traded’ in blocs.  (If they don’t like what’s done with their vote, they can rescind it).

Pi says: follow the trend, and the dividing lines between representative democracy and direct democracy begin to disappear…

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