Networked power

Jones, John. “Networked Activism, Hybrid Structures, and Networked Power.” Currents in Electronic Literacy 15 (2012): n. pag. Web. 10 November 2012.

John Jones, an assistant professor in the Professional Writing and Editing program in West Virginia University’s English Department, specializes in digital communication, digital literacy, professional writing, and rhetoric and composition. His academic work has touched upon social media, Wikipedia, and other intersections of technology and communication. More information can be found at

In this essay, Jones examines the networked social activism that has become prominent in the digital age, with a particular eye toward how power in networked organizations differs from power in organizations with a hierarchical structure. To examine these issues, he uses the 2010 Wikileaks disclosure of U.S. government documents as a case study.

Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, has asserted that governments are predominantly networked systems that actively take part in conspiracies, with its members hiding what they do from outsiders. Assange’s organization to harm conspiracies by restricting their access to secretive informational channels and exposing them as conspiratorial networks. Jones, however, challenges Assange’s theory, saying that he has failed to take into account the hierarchical element of conspiratorial power structures. However, Jones explains, Wikileaks’ activities, the U.S. government’s response to those activities, and the organization’s response to the government’s actions all show how power and activism can work in networks without strong hierarchical power.

This article was extremely difficult to follow. I began reading it because it was very interesting, but in the end I just felt dizzy. I think I will have to come back to it and read it a couple more times to get optimal understanding. However, the subject matter of the essay has strong connections to Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus. The way Wikileaks operates, and the way it was able to fine tune that operation after the government crackdown, show us that the digital age allows for powerful connections among different groups that would have been impossible a decade and a half ago.



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2 responses to “Networked power

  1. Every time I think about Wikileaks, I wonder what the Pentagon Papers scandal would have looked like in 1971 had Ellsberg had access to digital media.

    • Indeed. Here’s one: What if, 50 years ago, all those people watching the motorcade in Dealey Plaza in Dallas had had camera phones? I think the intrigue and conspiracy theories would be entirely different.

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