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The Good Drone – How Social Movements Democratize Surveillance

Drone Radio Show August 3, 2020 2 1

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“This is not just a story about the internet, not just a story about cell phones and social media, but rather how a new technology in the air can really change politics on the ground.”

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This Week’s Key Question

“Do drones have a place in supporting social movements?”

This Week’s Guests

Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick , author, educator, and speaker. Austin’s work focuses on politics, culture, technology, and social change. He holds concurrent academic appointments at the University of San Diego and University of Nottingham and has been a visiting scholar at Oxford, University of California at San Diego, and Yale.  He is the author of several books and commentaries on social movements.  His recent book, The Good Drone: How Social Movements Democratize Surveillance shows how small-scale drones, satellites, kites, and balloons are used by social movements for the greater good.

What We Learn

Politics and technology have always had a complicated relationship. Social media has upended assumptions about how politicians, voters, and protestors communicate. In this episode of the Drone Radio Show, Austin talks about The Good Drone, and demonstrates the importance of technology to politics. But argues we mustn’t stop with social media. New technology in the air (drones, for example) changes politics on the ground, and democratizes surveillance along the way.

In This Episode

  • Introduction.  Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick is a professor of political sociology at the university of San Diego and at the University of Nottingham in the UK.  With a PH.D in Sociology, he spends most of my time asking questions about what the world looks like and how it could be changed.  His particular interest is in “social movements” – those moments when people look at the world around them, decide there things that aren’t the way they should be, decide to get together to change them, and then do something about the world that they live in.  This happens on the left. It happens on the right, and it happens across the political spectrum. The area of study asks questions about how it is people working together, make a difference.  And further, how does technology fit into this equation.
  • The Good Drone: The full title of the book is, The Good Drone: How Social Movements Democratize Surveillance.  The book looks at the kinds of technologies that are used by social movements to shape culture and politics. Social media is a good example of a technology now being used by social movements to get the word out.  Drones offer another tool, that of a sensor in the sky.  The book explores how social movements can use drones for the same purpose.
  • Origin of the Book. Austin shares a story of using a drone to estimate crowd size of a demonstration of a proposed tax on the internet in Budapest in 2014.  The government discounted the protest claiming a few thousand people turned out.  However, the drone used in the class project documented tens of thousands had come to protest the tax.  The images and video were released to independent media.  A second protest was even larger. Eventually, the Government gave up on the idea of the tax.  Over 100,000 people viewed the footage shot from the air that what everybody on the street already knew, which is that there were tens of thousands of people.  In that moment, Austin realized that . While most the book focuses on drones, it also devotes a great deal to role that kits, balloons and satellites have played in fostering change. 

  • Some Insights. There is a chapter that traces the evolution of its earliest origins on fixed tripods to now being tiny sensors on satellites and drones. The book looks at the origin of the kite, how cameras in the air are creating new forms of art. It raises questions who has access to the sky, and advocates for a robust dialogue that includes everyone, not just governments and corporations, in the discussion of who can use the sky.  It raises similar questions about surveillance.
  • Closing. Austin closes by saying that The Good Drone is about how drones are being used to make the world a better place. It’s about how new technology in the air changes politics on the ground and how they’re democratizing surveillance. And there’s also a whole bunch of cool stories.

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