As public debate regarding the recent attacks in Paris continues to reverberate, I reached out to historian Greg Afinogenov, who wrote a widely-shared Facebook post on November 17 calling for a more critical awareness of how global structures of violence operate. Afinogenov is a recently-defended PhD candidate in history at Harvard University, working on Russo-Chinese relations in the long 18th century. He is also an occasional contributor to n+1 and the London Review of Books. Below is a transcript of our conversation, presented here as part of my occasional “Interweaving” series of conversations on contemporary global issues.
(This post was originally composed and published on 3/12/15 on mediasocblog.wordpress.com)
Just last month I watched a news story move from individual posts on my facebook news feed to the trending topic on my sidebar all in a matter of a week.
On February 1st, 2015, the University of Massachusetts began barring admission of Iranian national students entering into energy-related programs in the engineering and science departments. The University claimed in a press release that this decision was in response to a 2012 law, which was to refuse Iranian citizens United States visas if they intended to study nuclear or energy related fields. UMass said that, “administrators ‘recognize’ the ‘difficulties’ the policy creates for students from Iran as ‘unfortunate’ and in ‘conflict with institutional values and principles.’” (cite) The school sent out notices to students about their decision telling them, essentially, the “law made them do it.” (Click to see Umass’ text memo they published on Feb. 6th) Clearly, this sentiment was not agreed with by the students, some of whom had degrees that were suddenly placed in jeopardy. Soon, several reports came out claiming that the federal law that had been blamed in fact did not force the administration to enact this policy.
Type into Google or any other search engine ‘Social Media’ with ‘Occupy Wall Street’ or ‘Egyptian Revolution’ and I assure you there will be dozens of articles on how social media is changing the game of protesting. It is true that social media is giving the bottom power to communicate relative to social institutions, something that wasn’t possible before the creation of Facebook and Twitter. However, what much of the public has failed to acknowledge is that Facebook and Twitter in itself is a social institution.