Egyptian soldiers beat a protester in Tahrir 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer)
When people think of YouTube, silly videos of cute kids and old re-runs of “I
Love Lucy” come to mind. Especially among my peers at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, YouTube - and its parent company, Google - are revered
as technology giants that most students would die to work for upon graduation.
However, when I stumbled upon the YouTube-sponsored website movements.org
while conducting research for a cyber-politics class, I was shocked by what I
Co-founded by Jared Cohen, the current director of Google Ideas,
Movements (www.movements.org) is a website devoted to teaching
cyberactivists, in an explicit, step-by-step manner, how to use social media
tools to stage protests and revolutions.
The site is sponsored by
big-name advertisers including Pepsi and media outlets including CBS News,
YouTube, MTV, Facebook, MSNBC and National Geographic.
Movements says its
mission is to “represent[s] a new model of peer-to-peer training wherein these
leaders lend their experience in digital organizing, especially short-term
protests and campaigns.” The non-profit group is also “dedicated to helping
these activists to build their capacity and make a greater impact on the
But who exactly are these “activists,” and what “training” is
YouTube providing them with? It turns out that Movements not only teaches people
how to use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, but actually offers
training on the use of social media for the purpose of galvanizing protest and
For example, the site’s homepage displays a prominent
advertisement, “How to Bypass Internet Censorship,” as well as an entire section
of “how-to” guides that “identify best practices for the use of digital
technologies for social change.”
In the “Plan and Strategize” section of
the website, there is a ten-step plan that teaches cyberactivists how to spark
massive crowds and inspire “plazas teeming with protesters,” and explains simply
how to use Blackberry for nonviolent protest.
Furthermore, the “country
profiles” section of the Movements site highlights six countries – Egypt,
Tunisia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, China and Vietnam – with supplemented
Each profile includes a revolution timeline and/or social media
feed, and provides online readers with detailed information about cyberactivism
in that country.
In essence, these country profiles, which can be
translated into over 50 languages, make it simple for readers to get involved
with online revolutions.
In this way, Movements identifies potential
“digital activists,” and teaches them how to utilize social media for social and
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Movements is
the overt way in which the site states its intentions.
DO THE founders of
Movements recognize the danger their site poses to world order and stability?
Tools that instruct users to bypass Internet firewalls and effectively rally
mass protests online can easily be abused for violent and harmful means. The
information offered on the website for “social change” may be used by
cyberactivists to organize riots and topple governments, as was done in Tunisia
The question must be asked: When does supporting democracy and
cyber freedom encroach on a state’s right to sovereignty and autonomy? When
Google posts potentially harmful information openly on the Internet, anyone can
access the cyber tools. Like dust thrown in the wind, that information can never
be reclaimed, regardless of the original intent. As the old saying goes, the
road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The Internet and social media
have played a large role in the Arab Spring, but obviously the extent of that
role has not been fully appreciated. The American public deserves to know what a
proactive and extensive role YouTube, their beverage providers and news channels
have played in promoting and enabling social protests across the globe – today,
there is a lot more to buying a Pepsi than you might realize.The writer
is a chemistry major at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology and president
of the pro-Israel MIT Students for Israel group.