Friday, December 2, 2022

What the Arab Spring can teach us about GameStop

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When I first I learned of the campaign from the folks on Reddit that wreaked havoc on wealthy hedge funds seeking to cash in on struggling businesses like video game retailer GameStop, my mind flickered back in time. Not all the way back to 2008, where many members of the WallStreetBets sub-reddit– and those who live vicariously through their chaos – arouse their anger against the financial system. It was the year, of course, of Too Big to Fail, where many of the most powerful and extravagant banks and trading companies were rescued from ruin in an effort to keep the global economy going. . Instead, I thought of demonstrations of democracy in Tahrir Square in Cairo, which started almost exactly 10 years from the date of the GameStop hijinks, January 25, 2011.

The protests, which are part of a regional movement to overthrow autocratic governments known as the Arab Spring, were a highlight for the idea that the internet would liberate the world. Back then, it was hard not to get carried away by the belief that a group of activists using social media tools could overthrow an oppressive regime. Ten years later, these hopes should have largely evaporated. Rather than bringing democratic institutions to countries, like Egypt, which have long refused them, the internet often works backwards, destabilizing democracy around the world and increasing inequality. Yet every time an online group tries to stick it to Man, we allow ourselves to dream again.

The protests that started exactly ten years ago against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, then in power for 30 years, was widely seen as Internet motivated, which there was seen as unusually open for an autocratic government. In the days leading up to the protest, word spread through social media. Over 90,000 people signed up to participate via Facebook, surprising authorities and giving momentum to the movement from the start.

Once the Egyptian government figured out what was going on, it attempted to block access to Facebook and Twitter. And when that turned out to be less effective, he took the extraordinary step two days later to completely “turn off” the Internet. An expert cited in WIRED at the time, it appeared that ISP employees “were getting phone calls, one at a time, telling them to get off the air.” It’s no wonder that people began to believe that the internet had magical and democratic powers – an autocratic government treated the whole project as a threat to its survival, rather than something to tweak. its own ends.

This desperate decision on January 28 prompted me to write about the protests for The New York Times. I had been to Egypt for a tech conference in Alexandria a few years earlier, so I called people I had met to ask them what was going on. When the shutdown ended, their shocked accounts landed in my inbox. “It was the first time for me to feel digitally disabled,” wrote a 26-year-old computer science graduate. “Imagine sitting at home with no connection to the outside world. I made the decision: “This is absurd, we are not sheep in their flock.” I went downstairs and joined the protests.

Reinforced in this way, the protests quickly escalated over the five days of the internet blackout and stayed the same after the internet returned. On February 11, Mubarak was absent. There have been an election, a new government and an overwhelming sense of change. Then a suspicion that the change might have been superficial, with the same elites still calling the shots. Two and a half years later, there was a military coup, of which the leader is still in command today.

In recent days, the experience of these Reddit-based speculators using inexpensive and easily accessible trading apps like Robinhood has quite clearly followed the Tahrir Square experience, from the shocking early successes, a feeling the world whole look, up to one radical repression it may end up promoting the movement more.


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