30 January 2011

A Twitter Revolution? Let's wait and see.

Much has been written, said, and tweeted about the wave of demonstrations sweeping the Middle East. And while some may use the opportunity to advance partisan agendas (both Democrats and Republicans), many more have credited social networking sites for organizing January's revolts.

The community organizing features of Facebook and Twitter are well-known. In 2008, Colombians rallied over one million anti-FARC protesters in Bogotá alone via Facebook; and the phrase "Twitter Revolution" seems to have entered the popular lexicon during 2009's "Green Revolution" in Iran.

Certainly, social networking sites can better allow communities--linked through common ideals, rather than through geography--to organize and communicate more effectively than ever before. Nevertheless, communities have been organizing, demonstrating, and protesting for centuries. Neither the American nor French Revolutions needed Twitter or Facebook to succeed.  Nor did the Civil Rights movement nor the Eastern Bloc in 1989; nor even the Iranian Revolution of 1979.  Even Lawrence's Arab Revolt managed to spread across vast expanses of desert, among illiterate Bedouin tribesmen.  And today, with general  Internet access strangled by the Egyptian government, Egyptians are reportedly communicating through mediums such as HAM radio, IRC and dial-up 56k modems.  

Despite the prominent role Twitter and Facebook played during the Green Revolution, more than one analyst astutely noted that "Twitter cannot stop a bullet".  Indeed, the loyalty of the army, as evidenced in Iran, and ultimately, in Egypt, generally plays the decisive role in the success or failure of a revolt.  It's also worth noting that the same technologies which allows dissatisfied youths to organize can also be used by governments to track down and eliminate opposition leaders.

And while many Neocons might equate the January Revolutions with the anti-Communist uprisings of 1989, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical.  After all, Lebanon's democratic 2005 "Cedar Revolution" has ultimately given rise to a Hezbollah-backed Prime Minister.  

So let's be careful what we wish for; we just might get it.

Further reading:
Beyond Twitter Revolutions and False Choices by Adam Elkus at the Huffington Post

Addendum:  It seems the Daily Show shares my somewhat nuanced view of the January Revolutions.  Note that popular stereotypes portray Twitter users with strange hats.  Clearly, this has no basis in fact.

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Laurenist said...

The significance of calling these revolts "Twitter Revolutions" seems to be more indicative of how people are consuming news about the revolutions. Instead of waiting for CNN to broadcast the same footage over and over again, people are putting on their panda hats and turning to Twitter. That's the real "Twitter Revolution."

Starbuck said...

So, basically, the term "Twitter Revolution" is little more than MSM navel-gazing? There's a shock.

Laurenist said...

Anything to stay relevant!