Arnaldo Atienza

Research Hypertext Linear Version


More than just a means of political discourse and dissent, technological breakthroughs now enable people to create light affinity ties with each other. These ties, if viewed in a political manner, could potentially create deeper solidarity bonds and incite mass political movements. Social Media websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr now have the feature of reblogging, reposting and simply expressing agreement to what other netizens post. These humble acts of agreement psychologically connect people with the same ideologies. Through doing so, like-minded people are eager to be mobilized and are further empowered to act out because of their newfound strength in numbers. Through creating light affinity ties in Social Media platforms, a democratic and politically charged citizenry is created. The connection between light affinity ties could be seen in both Doctorow’s book Little Brother and in various political events that have occurred over the emergence of the internet and Generation Facebook.

The internet, now more than ever, has the power to connect people. This idea of connecting like-minded people and establishing the ideological commonalities of different netizens fuels the idea behind the reciprocity functions of Social Media websites. Examples of such functions are retweets in Twitter, reposts in Tumblr, “liking” different posts on Facebook and reblogging different journal entries in blogging websites such as Livejournal, Xanga and Blogspot. In these websites, people can freely post their views and opinions online. Once it is out for their social network to see, anyone of them can express their agreement with that post by the feature that their Social Media platform provides. This simple yet profound has an inherent strength that political netizens could tap if they want to start a social movement founded on the vast world of the internet.

Defined as " a culture in which private persons (the public) do not act as consumers only, but also as contributors or producers (prosumers)" (Wikipedia), participatory culture has redefined the way we live today. Websites aren't just sources of information or entertainment. We ourselves put what is out there, we publish what we want to publish and make ourselves public through the use of various social media websites. We engage ourselves in the massive Web 2.0 world and become netizens ourselves. Examples of being part of this culture are when we post pictures on Facebook, when we blog, when we tweet, when we add a friend and establish our online network, etc. Aside from publishing information online, however, participatory culture now was the power to create light affinity ties among the netizens themselves. Doctorow presents both the creation of these light affinity ties and the inherent power of these ties in his book.

With the popularity of Social Media, it is easier for anyone to become politically active and politically aware, especially among the youth. Perhaps, among all the Social Media platforms, Facebook is the website that presents its users with the most ways to engage himself in political discourse. More than just liking posts, Facebook also has groups wherein people with common beliefs are more explicitly bunched together. In these groups, people can post videos, blogs or photos that they may want to share with the other members of that group. Anyone can join and anyone can find these groups. This method of affinity tying was what fueled the recent uprising in Egypt wherein the youth took charge in the fight against their dictator Hosni Mubarak. Hundreds and thousands of Egyptians connected themselves through Facebook and from there, started a revolution that would change the history of their country forever.

Egypt’s “Facebook generation” was able to make their dictator Hosni Mubarak step down through online protests that were eventually translated into mass rallies. These revolutions, from their humble beginnings in Facebook and forums, were brought even more public as the citizens were mobilized and brought their indignation to the streets. In a series of web discussions that materialized into rally after rally, the Egyptian people were united and took their indignation to the streets. Fighting for the freedom of their country, they made use of the light affinity ties that they established in the internet and used that strength in order to win the fight against corruption and dictatorship.

Scholars have various views on the power of these light affinity ties. While most of them are generally positive, a staunch opposition of these ties have also been created. As for the positive outlooks, sociologists such as Jeffrey Juris and Mark Warren support the creation of these light affinity ties because it creates a new and revolutionary pattern of social and political engagement. New media technologies such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr directly engage citizens in thoughtful and richful discourse. It provides them with a space where dissent is acceptable, and sometimes even encouraged. Such acts create a more participatory approach towards democracy and engages the society in a more collective sense of citizenry. A reciprocity of various viewpoints and ideals unites and mobilizes citizens to practice a democratic citizenship that is fueled by their ideological commonality.

CSSN, a concept introduced by the sociologist Jeffrey Juris, stands for Computer Supported Social movements. According to Professor Juris, Social media has created “ a new digital technology that provides an effective method of social movement organizing.” Political activists now employ these digital networks in order to recruit supporters, spread information, plan activities and mobilize different citizens. The internet becomes a revolutionary platform that creates a “Globally Networked democracy”. Doctorow’s book Little Brother clearly exemplified this type of democracy. They took advantage of the internet’s “freedom” and created an underground network where they shared ideals, kept each other informed and discusses their plans of attack against the DHS.

Some scholars, however, agree that these light affinity ties are nothing more than a group of netizens venting and ranting about what they feel is wrong with society. They look down on these ties and deduce them to mere spaces full of empty words with no authoritative voice and relevant impact. Experts such as Ferguson think that light affinity ties would immediately shatter when push comes to shove. They deduce these so called ties to just online tirades made my cowardly citizens who just "talk the walk, but can never walk the talk".

Doctorow does not agree with this. He presents his own view of light affinity ties and explores its power throughout his book.

Cory Doctorow vividly depicts not just a social movement, but a new democratic and social consciousness that is founded and powered through the internet. Marcus, distraught by the surveillance and system brought about by the terrorist attack, turns to the internet to find people who share his views. Hidden behind the veil of anonymity, Marcus lets his ideologies speak for themselves. He propagates a youthful spirit of rebellion and courage in Xnet, empowering Xnetters to do all that they can to fight the invasive “security” system that they had. From the affinity ties founded on the internet, both Marcus and the Xnetters eventually brought their disdain for the government to the real world through the concert “Don’t Trust Anyone Over 25” and the VampMob LARP in San Francisco. The Xnetters found each other and mobilized themselves through the internet. This shows Doctorow’s positive portrayal of the internet as a space that, if utilized properly, could be used to organize powerful and purposeful social movements.

Doctorow presents the Xnet as his main method of forming light affinity ties over the internet. The Xnet is a server that allows anyone with access to it (usually tech savvy teenagers) to post blogs, pictures or videos and share it with other Xnetters, a term to describe the youth who have access to Xnet. Through the Xnet, the Xnetters were able to share their views and ideals behind a veil of anonymity. They were able to plan social movements such as the mass arphid hacking, the "Don't Trust Anyone Over 25" concert in Dolores Park, the meeting in the beach and even the Vamp LARPG towards the end of the book. Doctorow presents the power of light affinity ties in the book and presents it as something that invigorates the youth and could urge them to promote and celebrate democracy, social justice and freedom through the proliferation of various internet materials or through planning events that revolve around these ideals.

A crucial facet of the type of light affinity ties that Doctorow establishes in his book is their anonymity. He establishes the Xnet as a safe haven, a place where internet users could be free and speak their mind without threat of being arrested or convicted. In order to do so, Xnetters do not reveal their true identity and are only classified by a username. Marcus, who is called "m1k3y" in Xnet, leads the online space and he never reveals his identity. He establishes and strengthens the connection between the Xnetters and in doing so, everyone still remains anonymous and free of identity. This just goes to show the inherent power of these Xnet ties. Even if the Xnetters do not personally know one another, they still feed off of each other's support, strength, passion and willpower.

The light affinity ties that Doctorow establishes in his book dispel the negative stakes that other authors have imposed on such social connections. Contrary to those who believe that these online ties are merely superficial, Doctorow depicts them as a force that, if properly utilized, could lead to mass social movements. These ties, heralded by the youth themselves, are powerful even in their nature of anonymity. The strength behind these ties lie in the comfort of knowing that a large number of people share the same ideals as you and in so, one would find strength in numbers. Marcus utilizes these ties and turns the Xnet into a community, a safe haven for everyone. He fosters a spirit of openness, unity, freedom and passion. He leads the march towards justice and freedom, with the youth, the Xnetters, rallying right behind him.

In conclusion, a key commentary that Doctorow makes in his book is the power of light affinity ties when brought to the public space. The ties in his book were made in an underground network and even if there was just a limited number of netizens in that arena, the ties that were made were fortified and empowered to the point of social mobilization. Doctorow challenges his readers to create these kinds of light affinity ties in the realm that we have now. In our country, we have democracy. In our country, we have freedom of speech. It is up to us to utilize the resources that we have to create a politically charged citizenry given the advantageous situation that we are in now. Marcus, who was under prosecution of the DHS, was able to rally the Xnetters and eventually bring the DHS down. If we share the same passion that Marcus has about our democracy and righting our society's wrongs, then Doctorow helps us realize the potential army that we could create through establishing light affinity ties.