Networking Knowledge: Journal of the Media, Communication, and Cultural Studies Association

The Virtual Body Politic: A Networked Political Mobilization of Information Patterns and Materiality

By juxtaposing data visualizations using social media from the summer months of the 2011 Egyptian revolution to the attack on Gaza in the summer of 2014, my goal is to understand the hermeneutics (text and context) of digital knowledge produced from social unrest and citizen action as it flows among transnational actors from the earlier events in Egypt to a violent war against Gaza three years later. These two particular events occurred over the summer, and received similar levels of international attention. Both the Egyptian revolution and the attack on Gaza had regional implications, and the social media conversation occurred in many languages. Another reason for comparing these two events is to understand how various data visualization techniques can shed light on unique information patterns and the mobilization of various information patterns.

This brings me to my point about a virtual body politic. I argue that it is the actual material bodies that are writing the information patterns we read on social media, if you will. And with social media, for the first time, we are seeing media being circumscribed by its millions and millions of users rather than one state-run apparatus like a newspaper or television network. These authors have become a plethora of different bodies – big ones, black ones, brown ones, Muslim ones, Atheist ones, queer ones, and all the variations. It is this largeness2 in daily political movement and operations that is defining the social media production of knowledge. It is revolutionary.