Revolution on Internet Time

Stirling Newberry has a great post analysing the effect of the internet and cellphone on the Spanish election today.

What happened was that evidence came to light that the PP had been told on Thursday, just after the bombings, that Morrrocan extremists, linked to Al Qaeda had claimed responsiblity. A television station was told that a video tape could be found in a public trash bin. The news exploded across Spain – not just through normal channels – but on through the informal channels of email. Protesters sprung up everywhere – the same cat call lines used against PP politicians in different cities.

The internet allowed the public to “break the news” – cut through the attempts to fog the issue, and once it was clear that they had been lied to, strike back. Within moments of the bombing – black ribbons appeared everywhere on internet sites – and on doors, lapels. They were on web cams and even in chat rooms. There was, instantly, a communalization of grief.

But this same electric ability of community to form did not, as some thought, lead to a rallying behind the leadership – but quite the contrary, as the BBC Reports:

At the peace marches and at “spontaneous” protests outside PP headquarters in Madrid on Saturday, thousands demanded “Who was it? Tell us the truth” and held up banners warning “Don’t play with the dead”.

And notes that the demonstrations, while not called by any organization, are not exactly “spontaneous” either. The technological revolution of dissemination of information, married to the “flash mob” cellphone revolution has wrought an opposition forming, even though the major political opposition party – the PSOE – has not lead or attacked the government directly.

“Quienes Fueron?” Asked one demonstrator’s sign. Internet chatter centered around a round up of supsects – and then yesterday Europa Press broke the news that one of the Morrocans arrested was linked to the 911 plot and bin Laden. Retuers quoted an anti-terrorism expert saying that Al Qaeda struck because of the participation in the “War on Terrorism”. Spain’s anger exploded.

The government had bet that it could simply delay a few days, collect the mandate, and then, when it was too late, admit the truth. Or that if the truth would leak out, that the response would take to long to organize.

This is not what happened. Instead, the personal communication revolution brought on by the internet and ubiquitous cellphones – made it so that the public was acting as fast as the government. The government found itself under constant pressure, with demonstrators seemingly as well informed as the ministers they heckled. An aggressive press pushed the government, the government, while it tried to fleisch its party line, released information in a timely fashion – the bureaucracy undercutting the political appointees’ attempts to spin the story.

Read the rest…..

This is similar to the phenomenom that happened February 15, 2003 when millions worldwide marched against the Iraq invasion. The internet throws an unpredictable new ingredient into the political stew, and at least for the moment, the politicians don’t know how to deal with it.