The prevalence of technology and its influence on social change

Source: Eric Blog

The emergence of the internet, social media and smart phones has created more complex processes of the ‘boomerang’ and the ‘ricochet’. The ‘ricochet’ is the process of political and legal argumentation and information exchange between non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and regional or international institutions. The individuals behind the internet, similar to the NGOs, help to frame the issues that matters to people. The internet has a significant role in quickly generating useful information (‘information politics’). However, the internet also raises new problems. The ‘ricochet’ process exposes human rights activists to resistance and oppositions, because the actors are not always coming from the progressive groups. Furthermore, it can also be dangerous when criminal groups and terrorists take part to influence others. The raise of the internet makes the process of ‘ricochet’ more complicated for NGOs, since they have to always check whether an information is true or not. The information flows are more unreliable and NGOs’ role is becoming more important to clarify what has been said in the cyber world. While the internet itself is only a tool that is neutral in practice, it surely enhances public participation and makes democracy become more dynamic. The internet has helped create a burgeoning civic or citizen journalism, which informs NGOs about real situations on the ground (often also in real time). Nowadays, local and international NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch actively monitor these online participations. Internet makes it harder to hide human rights violations and therefore improves state’s accountability. Internet is important for democracy because it does not only provide information, but also engage the public to take part in debates that affect their lives. In this regard, citizens are not only spectators anymore, because they are also taking part as participants. What makes these processes more complex is that the public debates in the internet sometimes inform actions taken by NGOs, but NGOs sometimes also influence the public debates on the ground. Hence, while the ‘boomerang’ concept by Keck and Sikkink argues that NGOs affect policy making in international organisations such as the United Nations to influence the country they are in, the individuals behind the internet create an endless interactions among themselves, nation states and regional or international organisations (by informing one another). The other importance of this technological advancement is how quickly people can take action compared to the previous years before internet exists. It will be much faster today to gather like-minded people to protest, to donate or to write a petition for policies that affect human rights (for example, by setting up an event page on Facebook or a twitter hashtag). Leverage politics can therefore be more direct. An example of this can be seen from the case of James Buck, a guy who got arrested wrongly in April 2008 when he was photographing an anti-government protest in Egypt. A day after he tweeted “arrested” on twitter, he was released. The help was coming from other individuals, who were able to pressure Egyptian authorities by contacting U.S. embassies and Buck’s university. Symbolic politics has also becoming more intense, as people are able to share images and stories within seconds to other individuals. In conclusion, it can be argued that the internet has changed information, symbolic, leverage and accountability politics significantly.

Sources:
Holzhacker, R. (2013). “State-sponsored Homophobia and the Denial of the Right of Assembly in Central and Eastern Europe: The ‘boomerang’ and the ‘ricochet’ between European organization and civil society to uphold human rights”. Law & Policy. 35 (1-2), pp. 1-28.
Keck, M. E. and K. Sikkink. (1998). Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics. New York: Cornell University Press.

by Nadira Irdiana, A graduate of the University of Groningen, MA International Relations (Global Governance)

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