The exaggerated rumours during the Egyptian revolution, that the revolution itself was a ramification of the existence of social networks like Facebook and Twitter is preposterous, and indicates the myopic understanding of such analysts.
While Facebook and Twitter did influence the rate of information dissemination and to some extent online mobilization, the idea that if for no Facebook and Twitter the Egyptian revolution and the Tahrir Square struggle would not have occurred is simply ridiculous.
The reason I am delving upon this example is to show the contorted reasoning people end up believing in. The idea that a revolution/ a change/ metamorphosis could be instigated and perpetuated via social networks or some other online token actions has been imbibed into the minds of people by the media, and a majority of the gullible have certainly endorsed this idea.
The Facebook Campaigns like Save Tigers, Support Anna Hazare, Stop Corruption, and others are to be treated as awareness increasing campaigns, using a new means of reaching out to people:Online Networks. Unfortunately, posting up these campaigns on one's page and clicking the 'LIKE' button seems to be the end of this campaign to a lot many.
While nothing can replace the basic ground work in terms of understanding the problems, mobilising people beyond the online networks (for, there are at least three quarters of the country out of this reach), contemplating pragmatic solutions and persuading the authorities to implement them, or in compelling cases (like in Egypt, and Middle East) involving in struggles will what reap benefits. And certainly not just the Likes, reposts and shares of links and tweets.
The tendency of individuals to have executed their duties of being a citizen by performing these token actions online is highly increasing. People, I guess are considering this to be an extrapolation of online payment of taxes. Performing your duties online! And such tendencies is what I am terming as "Totem Revolutions".
The token-like actions, the symbols which rise to become powerful totems in the current context are futile. Manifestation of the the cliché: "Means mistaken to be the ends". The acts of sharing web links, retweeting, forwarding mails, display picture badges, giving out one-ring calls (!?) and other product marketing-like strategies are most efficient in attracting the less concerned crowds, for the ones who really bother wouldn't require any of these wake up calls. These tokens, growing into totems should not be given any more reverence than treating them for their worth,i.e, they are the newer means of mobilising and awareness increasing methods at our disposal. I again reiterate, these are no ends by themselves!
Symbols are given power by the people. Alone a symbol is meaningless but with enough people blowing up a building (symbol) can change the world. - V for Vendetta
And a converse of this is also true. People who only cling on to a symbol forget the reality and are busy obsessing the totems! This, off late, has become the ubiquitous behaviour of the 'concerned citizens'.
Online protests like the Anonymous groups, and the DDoS attacks in support of WikiLeaks had some tangible results, for, they didn't only mobilise online, they were conducting their struggles online, for they were fighting a peril being perpetuated online! The arenas were different.
Further, using centralised and Government monitored networks like Facebook, Twitter would cripple any such movements. WikiLeaks versus VISA/Paypal/Amazon incident is a manifestation of this apprehension.
Here's the link of the manual circulated during the Tahrir Square protests, urging people not to use Facebook/Twitter!
Cumulative observations on these lines, through months has made me sit down and write this post. The increasing tendencies of the online activists, to trigger campaigns online is perfect. But, the aspect of clarifying that the means aren't the end have not been profoundly proclaimed by many of them.
And please, no more of Totem Revolutions.
*This was originally published in the author's blog.