Civil Disobedience

Coup de Text

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Those smart mobs are getting smarter:

Cellphones and text messaging are changing the way political mobilizations are conducted around the world. From Manila to Riyadh and Kathmandu protests once publicized on coffeehouse bulletin boards are now organized entirely through text-messaging networks that can reach vast numbers of people in a matter of minutes.

The technology is also changing the organization and dynamics of protests, allowing leaders to control, virtually minute-by-minute, the movements of demonstrators, like military generals in the field. Using texts that communicate orders instantly, organizers can call for advances or retreats of waves of protesters.

This tool has changed the balance of political power in places where governments have a history of outmuscling dissent. In April, Nepal's King Gyanendra ordered authorities to cut cellphone service after protesters against his absolute rule used text messages to help assemble street protests by tens of thousands of democracy advocates.

The Philippines, widely called the text-messaging center of the world, has led the way. When President Joseph Estrada was forced from office in 2001, he bitterly complained that the popular uprising against him was a "coup de text."

Theory: the real ur-text for 21st century people power struggles is not Gandhi's battle for Indian independence, but America's highway blockades of the early '70s, when independent truckers fighting speed limits and diesel controls coordinated their protests with CB radios.

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  1. Who’ve guessed the profound social impact of Kris Kristofferson, the Bandit, and Snowman?

  2. I tried text messaging, but I got tired of typing “Breaker one-nine!” at the start all the time.

  3. I was just in the Philippines for two weeks. At one bar/restaurant, I counted 21 out of the 24 patrons simultaneously slouched over, staring into their cells, thumbs ablaze. As someone who barely uses a cell and has never sent a text message, it was shocking.

    And on the topic of driving, the Philippines must be the most libertarian place on Earth — laws (like, say, driving on the right side of the road) seem, at best, like suggested guidelines. Yet I admit that I didn’t actually witness any accidents.

  4. Wasn’t this “cool” x # of months ago, under the name of “flashmobbing?”

    Kevin

  5. Unfortunately it can be used for exactly the opposite:

    SMS messages are already being used by big oppressive government. In Belarus during the most recent elections many people recieved SMS’s saying to “stay in their homes” and that “riot police would be out looking for troublemakers”.

  6. America’s highway blockades of the early ’70s, when independent truckers fighting speed limits and diesel controls coordinated their protests with CB radios.

    I remember reading about how fax machines were the communications lynchpin behind the fall of the Soviet Union.

  7. Wasn’t this “cool” x # of months ago, under the name of “flashmobbing?”

    Flashmobbing is a more specific phenom, in which the mobbers do something deliberately absurd.

    But the Filipino text-protestors have been in the news for half a decade, so you’re right that the story’s been developing for a while.

  8. So people are using cell phones to organize protests?

    Mercy sakes alive … looks like we got ourselves a “con” voice …

  9. Well, depending on the government for “education’ does strike me as absurd. 🙂

    Kevin

  10. Rubber Duck,

    Best post of the day!

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