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This week, I found Castells’ optimism about the effects of increased communication on social movements inspiring. But, like Grant and others have pointed out, Castells’ argument seems to treat communication platforms as essentially neutral: internet social networks, for him, are mostly interesting in their capacity to connect large groups of people and to construct virtual spaces for togetherness (that then spill over into physical spaces).

 

But as we have seen in recent years, these platforms also experiment with (manipulate?) our emotional states (Facebook’s experiments), collect an overwhelming amount of data and are complicit in state-sponsored surveillance programs (Snowden’s revelations), shape what we events we believe are visible (feed filtering algorithms, Facebook’s tools to overlay French flags on our profile avatars), and have strong effects on our political views (discussions of online “filter bubbles,” “echo chambers,” and the like). Though social networks clearly play an important role in the movements Castells’ describes, I worry that leaving these issues mostly uninterrogated means that we’re not really touching on how social movements exist & create political change.

 

I’m curious what Castells would have to say about ISIS’s use of social media. The same sort of space-creation he celebrates in other movements seems to be happening in their online presence, and they’re able to foster a sense of togetherness and outrage at US imperialism (among other things) across borders. Online social platforms are clearly not neutral in their case (twitter, for example, repeatedly bans ISIS accounts), but it’s unclear how much control the creators of these platforms have over their use (some ISIS members append the number of times they’ve been banned to their account names, highlighting the ineffectiveness of such practices).

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