From the preface:
I had come to understand the historical transition [in the protests from the mid-90s to now] I was witnessing as part of a broad shift in how social movements operate and how they are opposed by those in power. This is a story not only about technology but also about long-standing trends in culture, politics, and civics in many protest movements that converged with more recent technological affordances — the actions a given technology facilitates or makes possible. (For example, the ability to talk to people far away is an affordance of telephones— one could shout or use smoke signals or send messages with pigeons before, but it was much harder and limited in scope). This is a story of intertwined fragility and empowerment, of mass participation and rebellion, playing out in a political era characterized by mistrust, failures of elites, and weakened institutions of electoral democracy. I had begun to think of social movements’ abilities in terms of “capacities”— like the muscles one develops while exercising but could be used for other purposes like carrying groceries or walking long distances— and their repertoire of protest, like marches, rallies, and occupations as “signals” of those capacities. These signals of underlying capacities often derived their power from being threats or promises of what else their participants could do— if you could hold a large march, you could also change the narrative, threaten disruption, or bring about electoral or institutional change. And now, digital technologies were profoundly altering the relationship between movement capacities and their signals.