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NYTimes Finally Frontpages the Rise of Networked Politics

BY Micah L. Sifry | Wednesday, September 28 2011

In case you missed it, the "paper of record" has a long front-page story today titled "As Scorn for Vote Grows, Protests Surge Around Globe." It's kind of a goulash of anecdotes from Spain to Israel to India, with the common ingredients being youthful street protests, economic inequality, social networking and a hint of networked politics.

Any day the Times quotes Yochai Benkler, the dean of networked theory and peer-based commons production, is a good day in my book. But for the record, this article could have also been written in 2003 or 2007-8. For argument's sake, the Times' story on the rise of the "second superpower," ("A New Power in the Streets," February 17, 2003) which focused on the massive wave of international protests against the impending invasion of Iraq, which were loosely coordinated by net-based activists, was the story in 2003, except the Times stopped covering democratic protests after that as its editors and top writers fell in lockstep in support of the Iraq War. I am looking at you, Bill Keller.

Still, who can argue with this, even if they're late to the party?

Increasingly, citizens of all ages, but particularly the young, are rejecting conventional structures like parties and trade unions in favor of a less hierarchical, more participatory system modeled in many ways on the culture of the Web.

In that sense, the protest movements in democracies are not altogether unlike those that have rocked authoritarian governments this year, toppling longtime leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Protesters have created their own political space online that is chilly, sometimes openly hostile, toward traditional institutions of the elite.

The critical mass of wiki and mapping tools, video and social networking sites, the communal news wire of Twitter and the ease of donations afforded by sites like PayPal makes coalitions of like-minded individuals instantly viable.

“You’re looking at a generation of 20- and 30-year-olds who are used to self-organizing,” said Yochai Benkler, a director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. “They believe life can be more participatory, more decentralized, less dependent on the traditional models of organization, either in the state or the big company. Those were the dominant ways of doing things in the industrial economy, and they aren’t anymore.”