Monday, February 14, 2011

In Egypt the Revolution Was Tweeted! Is Alberta Next?

Very interesting article in the Sunday edition of the Toronto Star by Don Tapscott entitled "Here Comes the Wiki Revolution."  I like Don Tapscott's writings and read his books. Still have to get to MacroWikinomics but the sub title alone "Rebooting Business and the World" grabs my attention as one of the instigators of Reboot Alberta. 

Tapscott starts with a challenge to the Malcolm Gladwell assertion last October in The New Yorker magazine essay "Small Change:Why the Revolution Won't be Tweeted."  Gladwell contended that social media only created "weak ties" between people and it took "strong ties" and close relationships to bring about real social change.

Tapscott says "If Twitter, Facebook and YouTube didn't exist, Hosni Mubarak would still be president of Egypt.  The social media tools gave Mubarak's opponents unprecedented ability to share information and organize their activities, including massive protest which riveted the world's attention."  This is the core new reality of the shift of power to the networks of engaged citizens from hierarchies of personal power brokers.

Last June  a 28 year-old businessman Khaled Said was beaten to death by two police officers. Said has posted video of these police officers dealing in illegal drugs.  Shortly after Said 's death a Facebook page was created called "We Are All Khaled Said" with pictures of his beaten body in the morgue.  Within weeks the site had over 100,000 friends and that grew to over 500,000 and became a rallying point for Egyptians.

Tapscott notes that social media "...can take weak ties between people initiated on the web can become strong ties and forge close relationships that organize for social change. Egypt shutting down the Internet gave citizens no other choice but to take to the street to communicate.  The paradox is dictators typically take control of the conventional gatekeeper media and can effectively control the message and stifle rebellion.  When the access to the Internet and social media was removed by Mubarak, those in remote and decentralized connected nodes "were triggered into action" and took to the streets. It had just to opposite effect from what the dictator expected.

Social Media Implications for Governments
There are some very serious lessons here for modern democracies and free market enterprises.  Stable democracies but with fundamental political deficits around accountability, honesty, transparency and openness, like Alberta and Canada, should take heed.  The political leaders and political parties depend on the voluntary consent by citizens to those in power to govern us. When the citizen wake up looking for change they will show up to make that change happen.  The voter volatility in Alberta is early signs of citizens waking up politically and not liking what they see offered by the current options.

When we vote, or not vote, we voluntarily give up some personal power and individual agency to politicians to form governments that we expect will act for the greater good.  The engaged and informed but frustrated or angry citizen will not comply with the old and outdated vertical political power model. It is being replaced by a horizontal participatory public service model of governance where stable and mature democracies are involved.  Social media is playing an enormous role in creating and sustaining that change to horizontal based shared governance with real citizen participation in the political culture.

Social Media Implications for Industry.
Industry that depends on a social license to operate in the marketplace is also in serious peril from the organizational capacity of social media.  The growing public opposition to big Telcos and Cable operators over ridiculously high cost and low performance of Internet service and the manipulation of rates known as User Based Billing is going to bring them to heel.  That is only one sector to feel the pressure.  Any other regulated sector is vulnerable and those unregulated industries will not escape the power of the mouse.

The shifting of public opinion on oil sands in Alberta and around the world, is another prime area where the corporations developing this resource are now responding to demands for authentic corporate social responsibility beyond providing investment, jobs and public relations campaigns.

Governments and industry who are not accountable, open and transparent, that do not align overtly and effectively with the values of the culture they operate in and fail refuse or neglect to adapt have reason to be afraid - very afraid.

The Alberta Party and Social Media
The Alberta Party and its membership gets this shift from vertical power based democracy to horizontal participatory democracy.  We know that social media is a powerful force to create and sustain this shift in power distribution and citizen participation in politics. We are mocked by those who's power comes from the status quo for saying we want to do politics differently.  We are belittled by conventional-traditional political thinkers who make comments like "it looks like the Alberta Party is trying to Tweet its way to power."   We are and we will because the capacity to do so is in the Internet here and the will of citizens for a better government will make it happen.

Those who think that accusing the Alberta Party of "Tweeting it's way to power" are partly true but they don't understand the difference this new technology is making.  What is happening is not a set of weak tie  relationships but new vibrant networks are forming of like-minded citizens who have decided to get involved in the spirit of Reboot.

They are citizens who are going to retake Control of our democracy and politics.  Many are looking to create Alternatives like the Alberta Party and others are dedicated to changing others parties from within.  Then there is the need to Delete the old attitudes that lead to cynicism and disengagement from politics and participating in preserving our democracy.

Rebooting Alberta
The Reboot Alberta effort was the sparked that got progressives in Alberta together where we realized we were not alone and others shared our values and perceptions.  We also realized political complacency was not a citizenship option in Alberta any more.  We had to get engaged in the political culture of the times to change the trajectory from the hard core right wing shift we saw happening with the rise of the Wildrose Alliance and its libertarian governing ideology.

The forlorn belief that there is no reason to believe that anything can or will change justified not getting involved.  The amazing way citizens in Egypt and Tunisia used their collected energy enabled by social media to overcome fear and get rid of dictators has to be an inspiration.  Citizens in Alberta are starting to challenge how their governments work and behave.

Albertans have a safe secure and stable society but without much resolve to achieve our true potential. We must move past the pure economic realm of the Alberta Advantage.  We need to consider what are our Alberta Aspirations in this changing world.  Those aspirations, must be a stretch that worthy of us and push our potential as people and a province.  We have to be a more integrated in our thinking and always be concerned for the economy, the environment and our social cohesion in policy and politics.

One of my aspirations as an Albertan is in the spirit and intend of the new Alberta Party as we create a new progressive, inclusive political culture with integrity, accountability, transparency, fiscal responsibility and environmental stewardship as fundamental values.  I see so much potential in this new citizen's movement that has morphed into the Alberta Party.  I am inspired by the courage and commitment of individual Egyptians and Tunisians who have so much more to lose and so much to gain by getting engaged.  I only hope Albertans  will now commit to change by a personal resolution for a peaceful but profound political revolution in Alberta.