The Real ‘Twitter Revolution’

Now that citizens all around the world have access to efficient and cheap communications technology, we have entered an age where anyone can get their message out, however small, however ambitious, and get the attention of those that they may previously have been ignored by. We have new tools which flatten the media landscape, and it is important to label them as ‘tools’, because they cannot start revolutions, movements, change; it is people who do that (Morozov 2011). These tools provide opportunities for professionals and citizens, stimulating stories with varying degrees of bias, evidence, and authenticity. It is now, post 2010, in the ’20s’ of our century, when we see the proven potential of the tools of Web 2.0 e.g. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube/Vimeo, Instagram etc, particularly their potential for change, as they become native tools like television and radio. This is a point made by Clay Shirky in his TED talk ‘How Social Media Can Make History’:

Shirky makes the point that when we start to take tools like these for granted, it is then that the media landscape truly changes. And it has; the changes that digital media have made to the way people (especially people in cities and suburbs) interact with media and distribute messages has changed for good. The biggest change has been the fact that groups and individuals can create dialogues simultaneously, that we don’t have to choose between one-to-one communication (Facebook chats/Snapchat/Twitter conversations) and one-to-many communication (YouTube & Vimeo videos/blogging).

We don’t have to go global to see the effectiveness of social, digital tools in linking people who want to challenge political and cultural norms. When schools collapsed in the Sichuan Province of China during an earthquake, social media tools were used by locals to gather donations for affected families and to raise awareness of the tragedy. When word started to get out that the reason that the schools collapsed was due to government officials being paid off so builders didn’t have to follow strict building codes, social media tools showed their rearing, angry head; photos of these officials, of those who had been killed in the tragedy, and news concerning this new information was spread far and wide, much to the detriment of the Chinese government, who tried to shut down the conversation. But the news was out, aided by the viral quality of controversial information, spread throughout China, and the world, using social media and the Internet, and the only things that could be censored were the angry voices of the people who had been affected.

It is foolish to say that the Arab Spring was caused by social media or the Internet. This ignores the decades upon decades of the mistreatment and anger, the poverty, desperation and corruption rife in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya (Morozov 2011). Additionally, a huge proportion of the citizens in these countries do not have access to or have never taken to social media or the Internet. But we can call the Egyptian Revolution a ‘Twitter Revolution’, because the activism which sparked the revolution, which itself was a reaction to the horrific events which truly caused the revolution, was a catalyst for the Egyptian population to tip over the edge; to stand up to a point that the whole world noticed. A major result of the ‘Twitter Revolution’ was that it revealed the inadequacies of the West and our obsession with democracy; we engaged in ‘slacktivism’ (Popova 2010) and called for the Arab states to take up our model of democracy, as angry, compassionate ‘citizens of the world’ (like myself might I add) signed online petitions and watched news updates with their hearts in their mouths.

I look closer to home to see the importance of social media; we may have a government now who ignores the biggest online petition to ever be created on change.org (Battersby 2013), but we can have conversations about race, gender, mental health, sexuality, and politics freely and without censorship on social media, changing minds, and even laws (Bennett 2013), showing that when we try to change things step by step, we can get somewhere.

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6 thoughts on “The Real ‘Twitter Revolution’

  1. seannyy says:

    When you brought up the use of Twitter to seek aid during the earthquake in China, it made me think more openly about the widespread uses of Twitter, while I think I was becoming more narrow-minded to the arguments of activism as a sole means of creating revolutions. I remember during the Queensland floods Twitter was used extensively to get information out to everywhere – this link (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-01-11/how-twitter-covered-the-queensland-floods/3767166) is full of statistics but gives you a general idea – with even a few Australian celebrities I followed tweeting and retweeting information to help out anyone in need or in danger. While this may not exactly be about activism as such, it still shows that Twitter is an effective tool to communicate on a wide scale, and I agree that it cannot be seen as the catalyst, but purely as a means of communication.

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  2. mh1993 says:

    Really interesting view on the the current digital landscape in terms of activism. Shirky’s work can never be overlooked when it comes to topics like this. I also don’t think you can overlook how important twitter was in the facilitation of the Arab Spring. The link below provides some interesting perspectives on the subject which talk of twitter’s importance.
    http://www.policymic.com/articles/10642/twitter-revolution-how-the-arab-spring-was-helped-by-social-media

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  3. chichi222 says:

    In relation to the earthquake in China, there is other news where social media played an active role in revealing the government corruptions. Here is a link to the website: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/08/01/us-china-train-censorship-idUSTRE7700ET20110801. This was one of the most serious event regarding with the issue of censorship in China. From your post, the Youtube clip above and the newspaper article that I show you, we can find that since the emergence of social media in the world, we become not only a consumer, but also a producer, which is so-called prosumer. There is the world where anyone can communicate and interact each other from anywhere, resulting in more amateur journalists posting their own opinions on social media. I am not confident to say that this is how social media should be used but this situation will hardly change in the future. Therefore, we should think differently how we co-exist with social media in order to improve our life.

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  4. cmr750 says:

    I really liked that you go further back into the Arab Spring story, however as mh said you really can’t deny that twitter and Facebook didn’t help in the organisation. It wasn’t the driving point that people claim it was, but it did help to increase the ability to spread the word of their problems to a global audience.
    On another note, I like that you talked about other global problems like the earthquake in China and change.org. Change.org especially is interesting to look at, I myself get emails about new petitions every now and then and the success rate isn’t always the greatest but there are some that have worked or are helping to reach better goals. I think a particular petition that will be interesting to see how it develops is the NBN petition as it has allowed Malcolm Turnbull to open his eyes a little more and become more thoughtful about the future of the NBN.

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  5. James Swanson says:

    Social media really is an amazing tool for spreading your message. The collapse of the schools in China just goes to show that when something is shared across social media platforms, there’s no telling how viral it could become. It’s great to see so many organisations harnessing the power of social media to spread the message of positive change, helping them reach a greater audience across the world.

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  6. orcadiamccann says:

    You mentioned that various types of new media are becoming “native tools” like television and radio. I think this is a very valid point – society is quickly accepting that new media like Twitter and Facebook are here to stay, each one having an effective role in social conversation and debate. This is prominent on television shows such as ‘The Project’, frequently endorsing their social media pages verbally and visually, to encourage viewers to voice their opinion rather than passively absorb the information that is thrown at them. This marks a new era in the media sphere, intensified by the Arab revolutions, which exemplify the power that people have with the stroke of a hashtag

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