Once of the established principles of current power has been that if you crush a node it will simply go out. People will generally retreat from a massive surprise attack on a protest. In China in 1989 we saw how powerless the students and the global community were to respond to a regime.
These methods of breaking protests depend on the morale collapse of people who find their protests to be crushed and rendered voiceless. The monopoly of traditional media made this an effective means of undermining the effectiveness of protests. In nations without democratic institutions or freedom of press these methods were always even more powerful.
In the past decades the way to deal with dissent from coal miners strikes to air traffic controllers was to isolate the protests. To cut them off from the world, to use the press to paint these people in a negative light and to allow them to simply fade out without any means of organizing or getting their point of view to the public or even getting support they needed to continue.
Blogs, Wikipedia, Social Networks and Twitter have made this strategy a lot harder.
We are looking at two cases where the old methods were tried recently. In Madison and Cairo the governments have recently tried to break protests by a combination of surprise moves and negative publicity. Just 5 years ago the methods would have almost certainly worked.
But we are seeing a very different outcome today. In both Cairo and Wisconsin the protests are taking their issues global with Twitter and Facebook. The monopoly of a few firms or organizations in the collection and broadcasting of information have been broken by the social networks of user generated content.
If the Army in Egypt or Walker imagined protesters would become depressed and break up than they are being proven wrong. Rather than becoming frustrated and silenced these movements have been able to use the Internet to communicate what is going on despite the major media spin on events. They have been able to rally each other and re-organize quickly.
The very next day in both cases protesters have been able to regroup, refocus and return in strength. If anyone thought the swift actions of power had ended anything they were wrong. We have been watching the content and locations of tweets concerning both events very closely.
In Madison the protests have moved on to new objects, quickly organizing a national "day of rage" for the 11th of March, a Recall movement to try and re-run the election, and to keep the protest going. Today we are seeing some of the highest levels of tweeting coming from the Madison State Capitol area of the entire protest. We are seeing evidence of a sustained an heavy protest which rather than going away seems to be getting louder and more organized. We have seen much elevated levels of tweeting from dawn Madison time and they continue, surging to 85 at one point on our scale. 85 is more in line with a city of a few million people, rather than a small city with a State Capitol and University. Track Madison tweeting in real time here.
In Cairo we are seeing something similar thing. Rather than being removed from Tahrir Square protesters are turning that area in to an ocean of tweets. We can also only assume they are also texting, posting to YouTube, updating Facebook and doing all the other forms of self organization which has made this current global result unique. Track Tahrir tweeting in real time.
What we are seeing is a new form of political organization facing an old strategy of repression. Power has tried a combination of shock, surprise and PR in the hope that the political movement would simply become demoralized and collapse. But with the new global network protest groups have learned how to react. They can deploy more agile strategies to respond to moves by the state. They can ensure that their point of view is recorded and massively disseminated around the world. They can call upon resources both local and global. And perhaps most significantly their members are making public declarations of support.
It would be wise to remember the American Revolution's Declaration of Independence. The very act of drafting this declaration and signing it had a binding property on the rebels. The Declaration changed nothing on the ground. It added no units of force to the American Armies, it gave them no ships, and it likely simply mobilized more power from the British Empire.
But it did accomplish one thing which was critical in the end. The public declaration of membership and aspirations bound the Representatives of different states in to a political union. This binding itself was a major turning point the in the War for Independence.
Today for protests movements all over the world Facebook, blogs, Twitter and YouTube are providing the space for this kind of community bonding around a cause. But at far greater speed and involving far greater numbers of people. The ability of these networks of resistance can respond faster than authorities can counter them.
This alone will not guarantee success, but it does make the chances that governments will at least have to enter in to serious discussions with dissenters more likely.