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Digital Power: Social Media And Political Change

Presider: Gideon Rose, Editor, Foreign Affairs
Speakers: Clay Shirky, Professor Of New Media, New York University, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, Director Of Policy Planning, Department Of State
March 31, 2011
Council on Foreign Relations


GIDEON ROSE:  Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the latest event in the Foreign Affairs Live series.  We are very, very pleased tonight to have with us an extraordinary cast and an extraordinary topic.

Let me start with a couple of preparatory remarks.  My name is Gideon Rose. I'm the editor of Foreign Affairs and, I think, officially this evening, a group, for those of you who liked "Star Trek."

I'm going to feel very old with all the -- not just the topic, but the various technological means of covering it and delivering it, as Foreign Affairs really is not just talking about social media and digital issues, but living the life, walking the walk.

So a few things for you to know.  First, unlike usual, you are not going to be asked to turn off your cell phones and your computes.  (Laughter.)  This is not a plane taking off.  You should silence them so they don't bother others.  But if you feel moved to tweet, to do any of the other -- to post, do any of the other things you may do with your computer -- I don't think we're allowed to be watching porn in here -- (laughter) -- but anything else you want to do with your computer is fine, and the more the merrier.

You should know about our new mobile site, which is really a great reading experience on your smartphone.  You should know that we have a digital subscription that's been launched, in which you can download digital copies of each issue and read them on your iPad or the tablets.  We also have a plus subscription which allows you to get all of our web content, which we have lots of.  And if you don't know about our web content, you should.

And of course, you should follow us on Twitter and fan us on Facebook so that we can poke you and you can poke us and whatever other kind of things you do.

This event and all FA LIVE events will be posted on and on YouTube on our channel there, so you can share and comment on it and come back and revisit it for future reference, should you want to.

With that, let me just say a little bit about our speakers and get right to the topic.  We're going to have a discussion up here for the first half of the hour, and then have a discussion with all of you for the second half of the hour. We have some wonderful questions already from Twitter and Facebook that we'll be starting out with, and we'll move it forward.

My guests this evening are two friends and extraordinarily accomplished people.  I knew them before they were extraordinarily accomplished, so it's great fun to see them become the big stars and mockers that they've actually become.

Anne-Marie Slaughter is not just one of the major scholars on international relations and American foreign policy, but also recently completed a stint as the director of policy planning at the State Department.  She is George Kennan's heir, really is, you know.  There are few people who actually fill those large shoes, and Anne-Marie is one of them.  And we're delighted to have her.  She's now back at Princeton; we're delighted to have her here in her almost semi-recent official category, capacity.

Clay Shirky is a new-media guru.  He's a professor at NYU.  He is well known to legions of fans.  He's been a new-media guru for as long as I've known him before that was even an official job category.  And I have to say, I'm a little bit puzzled as to when it became an official job category, because that epithet is always attracted to his name and attached to his name.  Somehow he managed to live up to it.

What we're -- he's also the author of a blockbuster article in our Jan/Feb issue, of course, called "The Political Power of Social Media," which kicked off a ruckus and was a huge entry into the debate over just what role Internet freedom, political communication, social media and so forth have in driving political change.

He, of course, called and in fact caused the revolution in the Middle East -- (laughter) -- and we'll talk about that in a bit.

So why don't we start off, Clay, for the three people here who might not have actually read and studied and memorized your piece, with a very short (prese ?) of what you argued in your piece and what the criticism was from people like Malcolm Gladwell and others and why they're wrong and you're right.  (Laughter.)

CLAY SHIRKY:  (Laughs.)  All right.  I'll see if I can do that.  Sure.  So the piece essentially lays out why a medium that's natively good at group-forming, which is to say that Internet allows for not just one-to-many communications like television or one-to-one communications like the telephone, but also many-to-many communications, a group of people communicating together, why that will have political and social ramifications.

And I think, like a lot of articles in Foreign Affairs, it was really two different articles in one.  One was a laying out of that principle, and the other was an uninvited memo to the State Department.  So I'll talk about them in that order.

The basic principle is that the Internet, in my accounting, has three primary effects on the media landscape.  The first one is that it is, as Bob Rubin has famously said, a massive positive supply-side shock to the cost and availability of information.  It's simply unbelievably much easier to get a vastly increased amount of information.

The second effect is, amateur access to the public sphere, the ability of citizens to speak out loud in a way that more people can hear them than you could gather around a dinner table.

And the third is, the ability of groups to coordinate their activities, to use the fact that they've got -- we've got a medium that is both many-to-many and relatively rapid to synchronize -- or to coordinate -- coordinate -- action.

So that's the basic catalog of large-scale effects of the Internet on the media environment.  And when I say the Internet, I include mobile phones, because they are increasingly tied into that network, not just in the sort of iPhone 4 configuration, but also with people being able to use Internet tools to rebroadcast messages from SMS -- photos, video and so forth.

The basic thesis of the piece is that when you're looking at the political effects of these tools, we have systematically tended to overestimate the value of access to information in many cases when we're talking about, for instance, the events in the Middle East and North Africa.  There's a notion that we here in America have the source code to democracy; if only we could reduce censorship, people could download it and compile it in their local conditions.

There is some value, political value, to the access to information, but less than we have believed, and that we have systematically underestimated the value of access to each other.  That in fact, amateur access to the public sphere and group coordination turn out to be the important tools.

And so if I had to re-contextualize those three effects of the Internet in the political framework, it would be that these tools allow publics that were previously dispersed and disconnected from one another, to synchronize their opinions, coordinate their actions, document the results.

And that those effects, all of which we've seen unfold in the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and in the insurgencies in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain -- I won't do the whole list -- all of those effects have been present, and all of those effects are structurally important.

The memo to the State Department part has been that State, whatever its actions are, has rhetorically overemphasized helping dissidents penetrate the firewall, helping dissidents get access to information, and underemphasized giving dissidents the ability to coordinate with one another, the buildup of civil society.

And also, a message, and one that -- Anne-Marie and I sat down at dinner shortly before the famous Internet freedom speech, a dinner to which she had kindly invited me a little over a year ago, and at the time I didn't believe this, but I've since sort of changed my mind about this.  I don't believe it's readily possible to weaponize social media, which is to say, even understanding the political value of these tools, I don't believe that the short-term benefit to insurgents in pure coordination can be readily harnessed for instrumental ends of statecraft.  And that instead, the long game of using these tools to build up civil society and build up the public sphere are where the real value is.

And to end with Gideon's little observation, I think that Malcolm Gladwell, in a widely read article in The New Yorker, said essentially, these tools -- and you know, picking especially on Twitter and Facebook, he didn't mention mobile phones, which I thought was an important oversight -- but these tools essentially allow for weak-tie formation, sort of people who casually know one another, to come together for some kind of cause.

But weak-tie formation has never actually achieved significant political change.  And that criticism is correct, and it's true as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough to explain the situations we're currently seeing.  Because what I think he missed is that people who already have strong ties or who want to build up strong ties with one another, the kind of deep bonds of trust that would let a group of people take political action, also use these tools.

So although the tools do visibly privilege weak-tie networks, the kind of casual association that can be thrown together quickly, they are not limited to weak-tie networks.  And that essentially what I said, both in the article and in a response to Malcolm's response to the Foreign Affairs article that's come out this month.

ROSE:  Hold on one second, let me just tweet that.  (Laughter.)  OK.

Anne-Marie, you gave this wonderful speech on Internet freedom and so forth, and have been seized with these issues inside government.  Why don't you tell us how you think about political power, social media, Internet freedom and so forth, from the perspective of U.S. foreign policy, both in and out of government?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER:  Great.  So first of all, it's great to be back.  It's great to be able to speak, tweet -- (laughter) -- communicate in any of the many ways that I can now once again communicate.

I did not give the Internet freedom speech.  The secretary, of course, gave the Internet freedom speech.  But in the two years that I was in policy planning, I certainly think it was the most important speech that I had the privilege of working on, and I worked on it, the very concept, the idea that she was going to give it and the speech itself, with Alec Ross, who is her special adviser for innovation, who is in the Twitter world known probably for his -- he's got a vast following, and he truly has been responsible for bringing the State Department into the 21st century using these technologies.

So it's really, in many ways, he thought, very important for her, for the United States, to make this kind of statement.  And many of us agreed.  And I really do think it was a historic speech.

And as I sat there listening to her, I was enormously proud that the United States was standing up two years before these revolutions and saying, we stand for the freedom to connect.  We have always stood for freedom of expression in the 21st century.  The Internet is the town hall, the cafe, the public square.  It is the place that people come together, and part of what they do when they come together is to assert themselves politically.  That's only one of those things.

And we were out there saying, this isn't just a technology.  It is a space, and there are rights, and it is the freedom to connect.

And I think, although I love Clay and his work, I think this is a strawman because we never thought about it as, you should be able to connect to the United States and download a template for democracy.  With due respect to our government, right now I would not be advising anybody to download our particular polarized system.  Not at all.

We thought of it as freedom to connect in three ways.  Freedom to connect to the Internet itself, to the idea that this is the space where things are happening, this is where people are living.  They're living online and offline, and that's increasingly merging in various ways.  And if you can't connect, you are simply being cut out of the 21st century world.  So that very basic physical idea.

And once you're on the Internet, you do have to be free to connect to any information you want, and some of that may be coming out of the West, some of it is likely to be coming from dissidents in your own society or commentators in your own society.  But you've got to be able to connect to a full range of knowledge.

And then third, you have to be able to connect to people, and that means to each other.  And there, I think the tremendous contribution of your article is talking about the basic nature of connection and how that builds civil society and how that gives people the courage to do what they're afraid to do alone.  I think absolutely, the understanding of this technology, in part of connections, very important.

But it's also about connecting to people outside.  Because as you and I both know, because we've both been on Twitter for months now, looking at people who are inside different Arab countries, who are communicating out, much of which is being filtered by just a couple of people who play a huge role, that goes out to us.  In many cases, I get information off Twitter that I then send back to my former colleagues.

So it's not about connecting to democracy.  It's about connecting, first of all, to the Internet itself, then to knowledge, then to other people inside and outside their societies.

And I think we understood, as Secretary Clinton would say it, that diplomacy in the 21st century is not just about government-to-government.  It is about government-to-society.  It's about government-to-people.

And what we did for two years was to work on all the different ways we can do that.  And without Internet freedom, that can't happen.

So I think I'll leave it there.

ROSE:  Was all the different ways you could do that, does that include leaking 250,000 cables to Julian Assange?

SLAUGHTER:  Do not look at the State Department, thank you.  (Chuckles.)

(Cross talk.)

I am --

ROSE:  Why isn't WikiLeaks a good thing?

SLAUGHTER:  For the very same reason that, as a lawyer, anybody comes to me as a lawyer, expects confidentiality.  I would have no business as a lawyer if I didn't uphold that, nor would a doctor, nor would a priest, nor would any other profession.  Diplomats are no different.

And when you work with another government, they have the right to expect that that will confidential.  When a human rights activist works with you as a diplomat, they have the right to expect that that will be confidential because their lives are on the line.  That had nothing to do with freedom of information; it had everything to do with a violation of confidentiality, which is criminal in some contexts, and deeply damaging in others.

ROSE:  Clay, I think you actually may have tweeted for Assange's defense fund or something.  Do you agree with that?

SHIRKY:  It wasn't his defense fund.  No, it was not Julian's defense fund.  It was for WikiLeaks to keep the lights on.

ROSE:  So explain why what Anne-Marie just said is wrong.

SHIRKY:  So I don't disagree with Anne-Marie's analysis; I disagree with the target.  Which is to say, inasmuch as confidentiality is expected and managed, it's managed by the people who have the clearance, who are asked to keep the secrets.  And there we are discussing Bradley Manning, not WikiLeaks.

And it's, I think, the kind of slip here in the obvious comparison with the Pentagon papers is that the people who consistently get lined up are not Ellsberg and Manning, but Ellsberg and Assange.  And that, I think, is the wrong -- that's the wrong unit of analysis.

That Manning, whatever one thinks of his actions as someone who -- whatever one thinks of his motivations in leaking, had been given secret clearance, had been given access to the SIPRNet and clearly violated that.

The operative case from the Pentagon papers -- I am not a lawyer, but my read of it, I should say, is, it's illegal to leak secrets, but it's not illegal to publish leaks.  And that it's made even further removed from that by being a foreign national operating outside the United States.

So when the extra-legal harassment of WikiLeaks with the removal from the Amazon servers and, I think, much more ominously, the removal from Visa and MasterCard's payment systems came along, that looked, to me, like a lack of due process and a failure of the rule of law, which is terrifying when you're dealing with the media.

So when I saw MasterCard pull their support for WikiLeaks, I immediately pulled out my Visa to give WikiLeaks 100 euros and, maybe more importantly, tweeted that I had done that.  Because my 100 euros is going to keep the server spinning for maybe another 15 minutes, but my telling 100,000 people that I had done that, that, I think, had more effect.

And I don't know how Anne-Marie feels about this.  But the tolerance of, and in some case, the enthusiastic participation, by some parts of the government, e.g., Senator Lieberman, for harassing WikiLeaks outside of the rule of law, not saying when Attorney General Holder decides to bring charges, then we will see what is going on, but the attempt to essentially silence someone because or silence some side because we didn't like what was there, that is the kind of thing that, I think, if it had happened in China, we would rightly protest.

And it's made doubly complicated by the fact that the vast majority of the world's international financial and large-scale Internet systems are essentially within our local jurisdiction, which suggests to me that we have to have an especially careful, purer-than-Caesar's-wife kind of attitude towards our treatment here.

ROSE:  OK --

SHIRKY:  So that's -- I mean, that --

ROSE:  Anne-Marie, do you have any disagreement with --

SHIRKY:  -- that is the prospect of it.

SLAUGHTER:  No.  I think we were very -- the State Department was very clear that we had nothing to do at all with --

ROSE:  With Lieberman's -- yes --

SLAUGHTER:  Well, with that, or with Amazon or MasterCard.  I mean, we were not out there trying to get people to withhold from WikiLeaks.  That would be direct interference in what is clearly freedom of information.  We did not do any of that.

Our position was rather that there was a criminal act, and our position, with respect to freedom of information and freedom of the Internet, was, look, these are two very different things.  We are saying, you have the right to read what you want, you have the right to connect.  We never said, you don't have the right to go on WikiLeaks and read it.  Of course, you did.

Our problem was that what happened that led to that was criminal, and we obviously denounced that.  The secretary spent months repairing the damage.

One thing I will say is that our response, the State Department's response, was very much informed by our awareness of the difficulty of making sure that we had a line we thought we could draw.  I mean, it wasn't like, oh, well, this is terrible.  We knew that we were standing in favor of Internet freedom, and this was complicated, and we parsed it in various ways.

And I don't think, you know -- we were not out there against Julian Assange. We were out there against how this happened.

There is a question, which I don't think we want to debate here, to what extent WikiLeaks essentially suborns, to go back to my legal training, somebody like Bradley Manning to do this in the first place.  And at that point then, of course, he bears responsibility, too.  But I don't --

SHIRKY:  And my sense is we don't know.  I mean, I wrote something about WikiLeaks immediately, you know, as this part of the controversy was roiling, saying, there may or may not be a crime here.  I didn't know then; I don't know now, partly because I stepped back from these questions.  I'm not a lawyer.

But also partly because the attorney general has not stepped forward to say, here is the crime and here's what it is.

But it seems to me that, in the absence of that, we ought to be -- and that's, you know, getting to answer your question, that's why I donated money and told people that I had done it.  We ought to be biased on the side of protecting media outlets that publish things, unless we're sure there is a crime.

ROSE:  OK.  Let's move on from WikiLeaks back to the question about sort of the political power of all this new technology, information and social media and so forth.

We have a special section in our May/June issue coming out in a few weeks on, you know, what I'm calling the new era of revolt.  We have an e-book coming out, explaining all these things.

In the initial, breathless news reports, first of Tunisia, and then particularly of Egypt, there was massive coverage in the West about the role of the young, the connected, the Facebook and Twitter people and so forth, and that this was the -- you know, now with, you know, the -- if I hear one more the revolution will not be tweeted or will be tweeted or won't, I'm going to get sick.

(Cross talk.)

But the first cut of history gave the Internet and social media vast amounts of credit for what happened and the upheavals that happened.  Do you think that's valid?  And do you think that when the true later story of these eruptions and upheavals are written, will social media and connectivity and things like that be given as prominent a role in the story when we know all the facts and we've had time to think about it and consider it, as they were in the initial breathless days of January and February and March?

SHIRKY:  Well, I'll say, first of all --

ROSE:  You first then.

SHIRKY:  I mean, as, you know, I've been thinking about this stuff for 20 years, and I can give a fully considered expert answer:  We don't know. (Laughter.)

That the sorting out of the various forces -- I mean, Juan Cole has said this nicely, all revolutions are multiple revolutions at once, right?  The sorting out of the various forces in fact is just going to be the work of doctoral dissertations for decades to come.

ROSE:  People will still be writing them?  In the age of like 140 characters?

SHIRKY:  They won't be printing them, but they will be writing them.

The second thing that I'll say is that the prominence that -- the prominence with which Twitter and Facebook were brought forward was, I think, wrong.  I've never used the phrase "Twitter revolution" or "Facebook revolution."  They seem --

SLAUGHTER:  It's demeaning.  (Chuckles.)

SHIRKY:  Right.  Exactly.  They seem unexplanatory and unhelpful.

But the other thing I'll say is that reading a lot of that writing, there were relatively nuanced attempts to say -- here was a group of people that were educated, underemployed, angry, and the government had systematically tried to prevent them from synchronizing their grievances or coordinating their actions.

And they used these tools for leverage to pursue, you know, deeply held political goals.  And then the headline writer would get a hole of it and say, Twitter revolution!  Right?  So that in fact, many of the nominal claims about the effect of the -- the revolutionary effect of these technologies were made by the editors writing the headlines and not actually the authors writing the articles.

There's almost no one who says that Twitter caused otherwise satisfied Tunisians to suddenly turn out to -- (inaudible) -- right?  (Laughter.)  And yet, the counterclaim is ferociously put forward, as if there is a whole group of people who believe this.

ROSE:  Well, let's -- (inaudible).  Had there not been the technological developments in social media in the last 10, 15 years, had there not been the widespread availability of social ways of connecting online, would these sorts of revolutions not have happened?

SLAUGHTER:  So I'll say yes, but probably not for the reason you're going to think.  I do think that's true, but before I say that, as I've looked at all this, I've thought, you know, a moment of homage to our Founding Fathers, to George Washington, to Thomas Jefferson, the Lenin, people who managed to actually have very major revolutions without being able to synchronize it all.  (Laughter.)

And I really have been thinking about what it was like in Moscow in 1917. This was huge, right?  You overturned a czarist government for centuries and centuries.  So a moment of appreciation for all those revolutionaries who managed to bring about enormous social change when it was a lot harder.

ROSE:  Whether or not we like the change they brought about.

SLAUGHTER:  And I'm not equating our Founding Fathers with Lenin -- (laughter) -- but I'm just saying --

ROSE:  Take those tweets back!

SLAUGHTER:  Right, yeah.  Take those tweets back.

SHIRKY:  There is a delete function!

SLAUGHTER:  But I really have been thinking about just what it was to be a band of revolutionaries and to have to actually bring people into the streets to make it happen.

But the reason I say yes is because the technology of oppression has increased dramatically.  So the technology of liberation has to keep pace.  So in the sense that, given the tools that these governments have to completely block information, to shut things down, then unless you had the counter technology of the social media, then I don't think it could have happened.

But that's just saying, you know, the printing press needed the Xerox machine.  At any turn, you can see that the technology of oppression and the technology of liberation have to keep track.  That's not saying that, you know, it caused these revolutions in the sense that, you know, what caused them was absolutely the discontent, in many ways, economic, political, and also some extraordinary courage of individuals who finally said they had had enough.

Let's not forget that, you know, this vegetable seller in Tunisia, who was a university graduate, who could not get a job, who was selling vegetables to support his family, his sister in college, the rest of his family who was being harassed by a policewoman who took, you know, his daily income, went, and he didn't blow himself up and kill other people, he killed himself in one of the oldest acts of protest going.

You know, that is extraordinary.  And the original -- the Egyptians who were willing to take Tahrir Square, I look at that, I'm a mother, I've got two children, would I have been out there?  No.

ROSE:  OK.  So I'd love to keep talking to you guys forever.  We have a lot of people who want to get in on this.  We also have a lot of people online who want to get in on this.

So let me start the Q&A by asking just a couple of questions from our Facebook and Twitter followers.

And one -- I'll go a little bit -- well, the first is from Irwin Schotzger (ph) via Facebook.  And his sort of piggybacks on what you just were saying, which is, what can social media do against regimes that are really willing to use violence against their people?

You know, is Libya and Syria, are those the counterarguments to the Tunisia -- (inaudible) -- optimism?

(Cross talk.)

SHIRKY:  They are certainly some of the counterarguments, as was the crushing of the green wave about this time last year in Iran.  And this, you know, I said this in the original Foreign Affairs piece, that the failure of the yellow shirts in Thailand and of the green wave both ran aground on the willingness of the government to kill its own citizens.

So these -- any advantage from synchronization, coordination of, you know, opinion and action can still be seen off with violence.  If a government is both willing and critically capable of killing its own citizens, ultimately it can see off any local threat.

However, at a certain point, the economic ramifications of that over the much longer haul become, I think, really salient.  It seems to me that what the green wave did in Iran is it tipped a military-backed theocracy into becoming a theocratically backed military junta.  That the mullahs were unable to stop the green wave, but the besieged were.  And that the events of essentially last December '09 through February of last year were the rise of the real military government in Iran.

And Philip Howard, who has written, I think, the best book on this subject called "Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy" -- it's a study of information and communications tools in the Middle East and North Africa -- says essentially the spread of these tools correlates positively with the citizens' ability to force the governments to be more representative, sometimes in large ways, sometimes in small ways, with one exception:  When there is enough oil money to buy them off.

So effectively, I think, we're going to see three kinds of exceptions to the general use of these tools for citizens to press their case.

One, if the country is simply too poor, to dispersed, to agrarian, don't expect Sierra Leone to blow anytime in the near, you know, in the near future.

The second is, if the government is simply willing to brutalize its own people, it can, for that time, hold it down.  I think that roughly describes the state of Iran.

And then the third is, if there is simply enough money to provide the satisfaction that people are looking for from the political system -- I think Saudi is the canonical case here -- those are places where there are relatively effective countermoves.

But if you want to be a modern economy, right, if you want to be even an industrial economy, you can no longer do it if the workers do not have cell phones in their pockets.  And once they have that, you have handed over a degree of communicative freedom to them, unknown in the 20th century, right, at that level of density and adoption.

ROSE:  So the Saudis will be able to buy themselves a third term.

SHIRKY:  Who is this?

ROSE:  The Al Saud.  (Chuckles.)

SHIRKY:  My -- you know, you don't want to make a -- I mean, never make a prediction with both an outcome and a year.  That's the sort of academic rule.  But my guess will be yes.

ROSE:  Anne-Marie, your take on the --

SLAUGHTER:  Well, I think, absolutely, the key determinant is a willingness of its government to shoot its own citizens.  That's why the critical moment in Egypt was precisely the army deciding no, we will not do this.  And a lot of the diplomacy behind the scenes, which I think the United States can be proud of, was, we had very close ties with many members of the Egyptian army through our own military, their military, and there was a tremendous amount of back-and-forth in terms of what a professional military does.

And a professional military does not fire on its own citizens.  A professional military is there for the defense of its country and not for the purpose of any particular regime.  So that was a key turning point.

Obviously, Gadhafi has had a very different view.  One of the reasons I have made the argument that we had to intervene in Libya was that, once it hit that scale, if we didn't do anything, we were sending the message that violence worked and you could do violence of any order of magnitude, which really, I don't think other regimes are following suit to that extent.  And that's a critical turning point.

But let me just say, the only other thing I would say here is that I think it gets harder to do mass violence with this technology.  I mean, even the most repressive governments in history, some of the monsters of history, they don't do it out in the open; they hide it.

Remember, I'm of the generation that remembers Solzhenitsyn and the gulag. You know, people didn't know what was happening.  Russians did not know.  If you had been able to show that as it was happening, if you had been able to show, you know, the mass killings that we've had in history, it gets harder for governments to maintain the stories they tell about themselves.

I mean, look, Gadhafi's up there, standing there, saying, everybody's happy here.  He's not openly saying, I'm shooting my citizens.  So no matter what, there is the gap between word and deed, that if you can use technology to show is there, at some point, that weakens the grip on power, even for people who are willing to use force.

SHIRKY:  Anne-Marie, can I ask you a question about this?  And this is -- this is not a leading question; I genuinely don't know.  To what degree do you think we've created a precedent in intervening in Libya that we will be held to? It's the now-why-not-Bahrain question, essentially.  That when other states bring in armed reaction to citizen uprisings, is there -- do you think there's an emerging doctrine about when we'll intervene?  Or is it really still case-by-case?

SLAUGHTER:  No.  There is a doctrine, and it's set forth by the U.N. Security Council.  It's called the responsibility to protect.  And gravity and magnitude of atrocities is built into the doctrine.  The responsibility to protect says, governments have the responsibility to protect their own people.  And in situations of genocide, crimes against humanity, systematic and grave war crimes or ethnic cleansing -- those are four very, you know, serious charges -- then the international community has the right to intervene.

And that is built in.  And that's why it's so important that the U.N. resolution explicitly refers to the responsibility to protect.  Which is not to say, and this is hard to talk about, that we do not think that the killing of five, one, five, 10, 100 is not very grave.  But there's a difference between deploying sanctions, whatever else you can, and using force which will kill in its own right as a countermeasure.

ROSE:  Does RTP, that creates a threshold for the right to go in.  Is it also -- is it a sufficient as well as a necessary cause?  In other words --

SLAUGHTER:  No.  No.  I mean, that's why the number of atrocities that are --

(Cross talk.)

SHIRKY:  -- that fulfilled the criteria you're talking about, and still we would not.

SLAUGHTER:  Yes.  It's called a veto.

SHIRKY:  I mean, really, what this is -- right.  When Medvedev thinks that's too dictatorial for me, that's when you're in trouble.

SLAUGHTER:  Absolutely.

SHIRKY:  That's effectively the U.N. threshold.  (Laughter.)

ROSE:  OK.  I'm very tempted to get into Libya --

SLAUGHTER:  You can say that!  (Laughter.)

SHIRKY:  Right.  I'm outside -- right --

(Cross talk.)

ROSE:  We're not going to talk about Libya unless you want to talk about Libya.

SHIRKY:  Right.  I'm not asking you to agree.

ROSE:  But right now, let me throw it over to our audience here who's been waiting patiently to get in.  So we'll -- wait for your microphone and state your name, and keep your questions short.

Yes, in the back here.

QUESTIONER:  Hi.  My name is Solana.  I'm the editor of Global Voices Online.  I wanted to ask you both about ideology in these revolutionary movements or perhaps the apparent absence of ideology, and whether you think it has anything to do with a, sort of, general social media environment, and whether it might -- do you think it might have anything to do with the way that government will be carried forward in these post-revolutionary societies or in the transitional period?  How will that absence of ideology or that general, sort of, government, the politics of social media carry over?

ROSE:  That's a good question.

SHIRKY:  Yeah.  So I think, first of all, Frank Fukuyama is looking pretty prescient right now.  The end-of-history argument suggested that, given what was, you know, given what works about liberal market economies, people will want in inasmuch as they're allowed to express their preferences.  And it's certainly not yet universal, but I think we've seen a surprising degree of agreement on that in North Africa right now.

I do think that social media had an affect here.  And if I had to pick a, sort of, a couple of things to focus on, I'd say the Kefaya movement and the April 6th labor movement in Egypt -- Kefaya dating back to '04, the April 6th movement to '08 -- each of which was an attempt not to coordinate with an ideology, but to coordinate rather with shared agreements among really ideologically dispersed groups.

Kefaya means "enough" in Egypt, and it was a movement started largely in the blogosphere between secular pro-democracy movement and Islamists, all of whom could come together and agree that, however much they disagreed about other things, they all wanted Mubarak out.

And where, you know, I think, to Anne-Marie's point about coordinating people when communications was difficult, one of the things that did that was ideology, right?  Habermas' famous observations about ideology and the lead-up to the French Revolution.

I think what these tools have allowed people to do is to come together around common cause without saying, we have to all be part of one organization.

The enormous -- the enormous -- tension in all of this, also reflected in what Anne-Marie was saying about the technologies of oppression having been amped up, the governments of that region, and I think, autocratic governments the world over, have created a situation in which what we know of as ordinary political disputes dated from, you know, roughly pick a date -- 1688 to present -- have largely been broken.  The kinds of things that would lead a group of people in the 18th, 19th, 20th century to protesting against their government, those threats have largely been seen off.

And so you get these looser, less-centralized, less-hierarchical movements because no one can find and cut off the head.  The problem is that there is no shadow government-in-waiting when the revolution fully revolved.

Now, ElBaradei says, well, maybe my people are calling me back.  He shows up, no.  In fact, not.  (Laughter.)  Right?  But he didn't know that until he gets to Tahrir, right?  Because who knew?

And so the real question now is, there is a period in history which we didn't used to have before, which is, after the revolutionaries have won, but before it's clear who's taking over, and that is a new problem.  That is a 21st century problem.

And you know, I don't know anyone in Egypt, but I have spoken to the ministers coming into the Tunisian government, all of whom seem very focused on the fact that they threw the last guys out so they could throw us out, too; all we're trying to do is hold the place together for six months so we can have an election that solidifies the constitution.

God willing, a lot of that process will actually work itself out, but it is a problem that we haven't faced before.

SLAUGHTER:  Can I just say two things about it?

ROSE: Yeah.

SLAUGHTER:  One, I actually tweeted this today.  There's a wonderful piece -- I think it's on your blog or in your magazine, I couldn't tell you -- on the importance of bread prices, of agriculture, of food security.

ROSE:  On our website.

SLAUGHTER:  It's on your website, OK.  So I saw the article; it was tweeted to me, I re-tweeted it.  I said it's a very important part of the story, and it's a very good piece.  And one of the things it says, it talks about the democracies of bread.  And it charts in revolution after revolution the relationship between the price of food and the revolutionary fervor.

Indeed, there's a wonderful quote that says, every society is only three meals away from a revolution.

So I recommend that.

But I have to say, at first when you asked your question, I thought, oh, that's right.  And then I thought, wait a minute, there's a tremendous ideology. How on earth could we say these revolutions aren't driven by ideology?  It's called life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  And it is a very powerful ideology, it just happens to be an 18th century ideology, but it is the most powerful set of ideas mankind knows.

And that is precisely what is driving the goals that the protesters are calling for.  That doesn't mean that's the underlying cause.  I mean, the underlying cause, I do think, is also -- it's about the right to have the basic opportunities that human beings do the world over.  And they are able to see that they don't have them, and the economic situation is such that it's -- you actually have to demonstrate.  I mean, there is no possibility of being bought off.  So it's a complex of economic and political factors.

ROSE:  And yet, despite what both of you just said, when Egypt just had its first major vote after the revolution, we didn't see either chaos or a bunch of nice young techno-liberals coming out; we saw victory by forces that were not necessarily the forces behind the revolution, and not necessarily the forces who were favorable to the goals of the revolution.

You saw the Muslim Brotherhood, and you saw Islamist parties, you saw army and --

SHIRKY:  Well, no, the Muslim Brotherhood -- the Muslim Brotherhood participated in the revolution in that they were part of the Kefaya movement.  So I wouldn't go so far as to say that they somehow came out of nowhere.  And I also don't think that's despite.  I think it's exactly the scenario in which the breaking of the old system, the building of the new system are now being done by different kinds of actors.  And that's the 21st century problem.

ROSE:  Yes, over here.

QUEStIONER:  My name is Charlie Rose, but I'm not the guy on television.  (Laughter.) I manage money for a living, sometimes better than others.  It seems to me that we're living in a world where we're realizing the failure of government and the failure of failed governments to have their people, as you said, be fed, have clothes, have jobs.

We're living in a world where both the West and the East are having failed governments on many, many levels.

However, you are -- if you look at the emerging economies, obviously, the BRIC countries, the BRIC countries have not changed, and particularly China, have not changed their authoritarian characteristics, but there's been a liberalization of their economy.

And could there be a situation in these other emerging countries -- we'll use a pilot word for them -- whereby you don't change their government, but you change their character of investment, wealth creation?  They have educated populations, young people, very young populations in the Arab world.  I've traveled around the Arab world myself.

So the question I have for you is that, could you have an economic revolution and not a government or a political system change?

SHIRKY:  I don't think so.  I say this in the article.  I'm short China. In fact, I just bet $100 that the Chinese communist party won't be in charge in 10 years -- $100 that they won't be in charge in 10 years.  We've never seen an industrialized autocracy last longer than 70 years.  So I think there is something inimical in economic freedom to political un-freedom.

And one of the things that really changed my view on this was the Philip Howard book I was referencing earlier, "Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy," in which he doesn't talk about democratization, yes or no, do you have it or do you not?

If you look -- if you ask that question and you look at china, China, you know, no 10 years ago, still no now.

But if you look at it as actions in which the government either becomes more or less responsive to its people, China has had an enormous number of activities in which they've become more responsive to their people --

SLAUGHTER:  Much more -- much, much more.

SHIRKY:  -- because at the local level, they have to root out corruption and they have to have responsible -- what they're trying to do is essentially, you know, creamy democratic center, crunchy authoritarian crust, or whatever -- (laughter) -- so that you get the good aspects of a working government that's responsible to its people at the level of the town and the province, without threatening the party at the top.

But I think that they -- you know, and this thing Anne-Marie was saying about, you know, not being able to hide these things, right, Sichuan quake of 2008, which brought about spontaneous protests from the middle class when the schools collapsed and killed the children, which of course left those families childless, the last time there had been an earthquake of that magnitude, the Chinese government had been able to deny that it had happened for three months.  This time, they learned about it from their own citizens posting photos and videos to RenRen and QQ and the various Chinese social media services.

So I think that China is in fact, if you look at it at, you know, if you stand in Tiananmen Square and look in concentric circles, no, not much change.  But if you look at the level of responsiveness that's being either forced on them or that they are themselves forcing at the lower levels, they are a dramatically more responsive government than they used to be.

And I'm betting that they will fail at this attempt to have responsiveness at the bottom level and autocracy at the top.

ROSE:  OK.  Anne-Marie, but hold on one second -- excuse me, one second.

QUESTIONER:  (Off microphone.)

ROSE:  Anne-Marie, before you uprooted your family and took them to that strange place called Washington, you uprooted them --

SLAUGHTER:  I never uprooted them.  Excuse me, I commuted for two years, which is why I'm back.  (Laughter.)

ROSE:  Before that, you did uproot them and took them to that strange place called China.

SLAUGHTER:  And take them to Shanghai, yes.

ROSE:  So what is your take on the stuff Clay was just saying, given that you were actually there on the ground for a year?

By the way, we have a -- if you could tell, one of our Facebook questions is, what are the prospects for social media in China?  So touch on those.

SLAUGHTER:  So the first thing I will say is, I definitely agree with Clay that the liberalization of Chinese society in terms of allowing participation at the local level is quite dramatic.

On the other hand, China is very worried.  And one thing that is not, I think, being paid attention enough to right now is, China is systematically arresting top bloggers and shutting down Internet cafes, and everyone is focused on the Middle East.  It is very clear the Chinese government is extremely worried and individuals are paying that price.  It is tightening day by day.

I'm not sure I would -- I mean, I think I might take your bet.  And if I did, it would simply be that living in China is understanding a country that has suffered so much through social instability, that it's a different point of departure than for Americans.  We have always -- we obviously had a terrible Civil War.  But otherwise, we've never had the country fall apart, be put back together. We've never had the government loose hoards on people and send them, both killing and displacing people, so that there is such a desire for stability.

And why did 70 percent of Egyptians vote for the constitutional changes put before them?  The same desire for stability, the ability to live their lives without violence, without chaos, may allow an evolution rather than a revolution.

But if so, I think it is because of something very deep in the national psyche.

ROSE:  OK.  Let's take two more questions, wrap it up.

Here and here, because you had your hand up before.

QUESTIONER:  Hi.  Rich Robbins.  I'm really interested in the threshold you were talking about for right to protect.  And one thing you didn't talk about, which gets back to what Clay was saying about the capabilities of these new connective technologies, does access to world leaders through digital play a big role in triggering the right to protect?  And I would say, by all means, it would.

So and you had tweeted to me last week that, because of --

SLAUGHTER:  I was wondering if you're that --

QUESTIONER:  I'm that guy.  (Laughter.)

SLAUGHTER:  You're that guy.

QUESTIONER:  So you answered a question last week, that because Andy Carvin was amplifying voices in Libya, it most likely had an impact in the State Department and other foreign governments in just seeing the atrocities that were happening and causing world governments to want to intervene.  Does that become part of the threshold that, if you can get your voices amplified enough by Andy or by other forces, the world leaders are more likely to step in?  And what are the implications of that?  What are the dangers of countries that aren't as connected? Are they more able to --

ROSE:  Hold on a second.  Get a second one here.

SHIRKY:  Good question.

SLAUGHTER:  A weak tie just became a stronger tie.

QUESTIONER:  Hi.  My name is Regina Joseph.  I'm a master's candidate at the NYU Center for Global Affairs.  And my question -- you touched upon the technology of liberation, and you almost touched on technology of oppression.  And I'm curious to hear your perspectives on the issue of the primacy of the pipes, the corporate and the state interests that control the access.

For example, in Egypt, for a week, they shut down wireless access.  So even if you have the capability to synchronize groups, the ability of that synchronization sometimes gets cut off.  And in the case of the states' responsibility, for example, in the U.S., the FCC just last month basically provided a certain measure of net-neutrality to fixed-line access providers, but to the wireless carriers, which ultimately will be the biggest access point for most people in the future, essentially gave the carriers carte blanche.

So you know, creating that price point, how are people going to access in the future?  How do you make that possible?

ROSE:  So Anne-Marie, on RTP, and Clay on pipes.

SLAUGHTER:  I was going to say.  You're better on pipes.  (Laughs.)

ROSE:  And then you can also include whatever final thoughts you have before we head over to the bar for non-virtual socializing.

SLAUGHTER:  I hope not.  Yeah, the day wine goes virtual is the day -- (laughter) -- so the thresholds are built in.  You're absolutely right that effectively what's happening through the people who have been amplifying Libyan voices is they've made it impossible to deny the brutality of what's going on.

Even so, it wasn't until his forces were on the edge of Gadhafi, and it was clear that you had a town of 700,000 and he was threatening to go door-to-door, as the president just said.  Now that, you could see without cell phones.  I mean, we could just see that.

But on the other hand, we'd seen enough to know that he was going to keep his word.  And we had seen that through individual pictures.

But I think you make a very important point that there are countries and places where crimes against humanity are undoubtedly being committed, and we do not know about them, or we do not know about them in ways that people who can then make a difference when they do know about them can actually act.

And that's a different kind of digital divide and a very tragic one.

ROSE:  Does that mean -- let me just follow up on that for a second. Does that mean that, as information technology spreads, as knowledge spreads, and in real time, that since you're not going to discover that fewer bad things are happening -- (laughter) -- does that mean that the odds are that we will see interventions, more interventions in more places, because we'll now be aware of more problems that need to be solved?

SLAUGHTER:  Yes.  I mean, and indeed you are seeing right now -- I'm not sure you would have had a U.N. resolution on the Ivory Coast last night if you hadn't had a U.N. resolution on Libya before.  You can't stand there and say, look, we're going to act as 700,000 Libyans are imperiled and then see similar numbers in Ivory Coast and not act.

Now, does that mean we're going to send in force all the time?  Again, the barriers against that are very, very high.  But are we going to intervene in various ways, and ultimately more use of international force in a humanitarian capacity?  Yes.

ROSE:  I bet that it will depend on how Libya is seen in retrospect.

SLAUGHTER:  Well, I --

ROSE:  If Libya is not seen to be a success in retrospect, that it will actually set back the prospects of future interventions.  But we'll --

SLAUGHTER:  Take that bet.

ROSE:  Clay.

SHIRKY:  So the net-neutrality question, certainly, the U.S.'s inability to create a situation where essentially what made the Internet work, the lack of discrimination, isn't part of the framework for wireless, is a huge threat for us and would be a threat anywhere it appeared.

Funnily enough, in many countries, the provisioning of net-neutrality is actually much better than here, a little bit like our disastrous cell phone infrastructure.  We're not -- you know, we're behind.

In terms of the conversation here about autocratic regimes, the answer to bad pipes is more pipes, right?  Not -- because there's no guarantee -- if there is a piece of glass under your soil, there is no guarantee you can create that you're not just going to cut that glass.  Right?  If the ISPs in Egypt had been responded to big guys showing up with guns at their door and shut her down, we know from trawlers dredging outside of Alexandria that it's possible to cut those cables because it happened three times in the middle of the decade.  So they could have simply physically disconnected.

Consistently, the story is when there are large physical disconnects at the level of the pipes that somebody uses radio repeaters, somebody uses low-earth orbit satellites, satellite phones.  The threshold isn't narrow band or broadband.  The threshold is connected at all or not.

And so rather than saying we have to find some way to defend glass and copper running through autocratic regimes -- which we can't do, it's not physically possible -- we have to provision a lot of different ways for people to connect because it's the overlap of alternative systems rather than any sort of nominal legal hardening because autocrats are untrustworthy come it comes to legal agreements.

The much bigger threat is at the application level.  It's not about is the glass intact or not.  It's about how does Facebook feel about having people hold up, in Arabic, signs in Tahrir Square that say, "Thank you, Facebook," when they're negotiating to get into China?  Right?  (Laughter.)  That's where the bigger risk is.  We don't -- we talk about -- I talk about a public sphere.  We don't actually have a public sphere online.  We have a corporate sphere that tolerates public speech to a first approximation.

Some people do it badly.  Some people do it well.  Twitter has been astonishingly good on asking to inform people when they are being subpoenaed and so forth.  So Twitter has done an amazingly good job of standing up for what it considered to be the civil rights of its users.  But that is still only a business decision.

So we are, in this moment, in a situation roughly like the Vietnam War protests at the end of the 1960s where the debate, principally in California, around what free speech rights attached to malls which were also privately owned

SLAUGHTER:  I remember those cases.

SHIRKY:  -- and end up with the Pruneyard decision where, essentially, there's a high degree of regional variability.  But we're heading for that accept the legal framework in which any such decision would happen has to be international.

So the question I think isn't so much about connectivity.  I mean, it didn't work for Egypt to shut down the Internet, and it couldn't because, by that time, it was too late.  And if you were to shut down the Internet anytime there was a threat, there would have been no Internet access in Egypt for the last 15 years.

So those economic effects keep connectivity at a relatively moderate level, but it's the ability to actually use the tools they want to use to a day-to-day basis to speak where the threat is, I think, being manifest and where the really hard foreign policy question is.

ROSE:  OK.  We really have to shut this down, but I want to just take one more question -- time for one more question because as I was sitting here listening to you guys, it strikes me -- I'm curious to zoom out for a second.

I mean, Clay, you've been this sort of techno-optimist for as long as I've known you envisioning some future world that's sort of way beyond where we are.

SHIRKY:  Well, I've stopped.  Now I'm envisioning the present.

ROSE:  Exactly.  (Laughter.)

SHIRKY:  I'm done envisioning the future.

ROSE:  I don't know if you're one of these singularity types or no.

SHIRKY:  No, no, no. Ixnay on the singularity.  That's ridiculous.

ROSE:  Anne-Marie, you're from the world -- it's my world.  It's a very traditional world.  I mean, we're sitting here in the Council on Foreign Relations which is, you know, nearly a century old and, you know, foreign affairs is 90 years old, and it's filled with a bunch of, you know, old white males traditionally -- no longer anymore -- but in the old days, you know, sitting around writing several thousand articles for a journal that's, you know, made on chewed-up trees --

SLAUGHTER:  George Cannon writing the X article for the pages of Foreign Affairs.  There you go.

(Cross talk.)

ROSE:  Exactly.  So here's my question:  Are we really -- and to zoom out for a second.  I mean, is this stuff that we're discussing tonight and the little changes that we're talking about in our practices, are we really undergoing the kind of massive world historical revolution in our lives that the sort of technology optimists have been telling us that's going to come?  And will things -- if we have you guys back 10, 20 years from now, will it be dramatically different in a whole variety of ways?  Will the world around us be dramatically different in ways that were not true of the last sort of, you know, 50 or 60 years?

Has the pace of change in international relations, in technology, in life, in the world -- is it speeding up so much that, by the time we grownups -- semi-grownups like us -- (laughter) -- reach the end of our natural lives, we will no longer recognize, you know, the world that we grew up in?

SLAUGHTER:  So I think we are.  I really -- I think in the world of international relations -- I'm not going to -- that's my expertise.  I'm not going to go beyond, and I don't think that means utopia.  I mean, but I fundamentally think that we are moving from a world in which international relations was the relations between states -- it's built right into the title, "internation" -- to a world in which international relations, even as conducted by governments -- so this isn't just, you know, transnational networks all over the place -- even as conducted by governments, is -- now has to focus on both governments and societies.

That means that you have to do diplomacy.  You continue to do diplomacy.  You also have to do development, and development is every bit as important as diplomacy because you are focusing on the conditions of people's lives.  That means, when you're talking about governments, you're talking about whoever's in the government.  If you're talking about societies, you'd better focus on half the society, women.  Right?

You cannot engage a society and ignore half of it.  You have to engage public-private partnerships.  You have to engage all of our society in connecting to other societies.  So at least with respect to our discipline, I think the kinds of articles, the kind of diplomacy, the very way we recruit and we conduct our foreign policy is changing fundamentally.  And I will give only, you know, one example that, you know, as part of -- we did the Internet freedom speech but, equally, we pulled together competitions for apps for Africa; how could you -- what would be the best apps to help different people in different societies in Africa do what they needed to do?

Now, you could say, well, sure, you know, 90 years ago, nobody knew what an app was.  I'm saying it's not just about the technology.  It's about the idea that the U.S. State Department is running a competition to find what are the best applications to help people on the ground in Kenya, in Uganda, in other countries.

So I think there's a sea change or a paradigm shift or -- however grand you want to make it --

ROSE:  Clay, last word but keep it short.

SHIRKY:  So I'll follow this and say that one of the things that I have consistently tried to say to people thinking about international relations is that "non-state actor" increasingly sounds like "horseless carriage."  (Laughter.)  Like it's going to be just like it was except with, you know -- you're defining it by negation.  And, in fact --

SLAUGHTER:  (Chuckles.)  That's a good line.

SHIRKY:  -- the active presence of these non-state actors, as we're asked to call them is increasingly salient.

Let me end with an observation that I think comes from one of audience members.  Global voices is astonishing.  Global voice is set up to say we could increase awareness among English-language readers by simply translating parts of the blogosphere not written in English and making that material more salient politically.

And that is the kind of idea you couldn't even have had, right?  The foreign -- you know, the FBIS, the broadcast board of governors, the people who are do that translation could never have hoped to distribute it at the scale that global voices is doing.  And I don't -- so I don't want to sign up for any kind of grand monotonic change so much as the accumulation of ideas like that, I think, if we and back in 10 years, we are going to have had another decade of big surprises.

ROSE:  Translating interesting thoughts and ideas into English so that they could have the impact that they deserve.  Gee, it sounds like what the editors of Foreign Affairs do every day.  (Laughter and applause.)

SLAUGHTER:  That's very nice.

ROSE:  With that, thank you very much.
























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