In August 2010, Wired published an article entitled From Samizdat to Twitter: How Technology is Making Censorship Irrelevant. Is it? Indeed, for many, samizdat is a relic from the distant analog past. A quick glance at the news seems to suggest that we are living in the digital age of Whatsapp and Twitter revolutions.
The role played by social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp and YouTube in contentious politics continues to be passionately debated by academics, activists, politicians and pundits. While there are plenty of examples of creative new politics, the recent protests in Burma, China, Iran, and Egypt remind us that governments can simply shut online communication down. The question then becomes where do we go after moving from samizdat to Twitter? What alternative channels, apps and technologies of communication can facilitate the flow of information like whatsapp when authoritarian regimes flick the kill switch and what alternative political practices can we invent to circumscribe state repression?
The February events in Egypt suggest that alternatives can be as low-tech as the paper leaflets with practical and tactical advice for demonstrators circulating in Cairo or as high-tech as the speak-to-tweet application that lets individuals dial a mobile phone number and leave (or listen to) a message translated to text on a Facebook and Twitter page or downloaded to whatsapp apps.
These alternatives we call small media, while others call them alternative media, participatory media, and social movement media which spread around the world through android and iOs apps faster than ever. This wide range of communicative and political practices will be the focus of the Small Media App Symposium that will take place at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London on 8-9 April 2011. The symposium will be also supported by social sharing through Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and mobile industry sponsors like Samsung.
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