News / Middle East

    A 'Twitter Moment' in Politics?

    It's an idea that's been repeated so often on the Internet that it has become to look like a fact: namely that social media like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter helped inspire and fuel protests in places like Iran, Burma, China and elsewhere. But is it really true? In spite of all the flash, are social media really a good way to organize?

    A 'Twitter Moment' in Politics?
    A 'Twitter Moment' in Politics?

    Last year, the US State Department made an unusual request to a social network. It asked Twitter to delay maintenance that might have interrupted messages from Iranians protesting the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Twitter obliged by delaying its operation keeping the network open and Iranians free to tweet.

    Anger over the Iranian presidential elections spilled into the streets, along with violence as protesters fought with Iranian security forces. So, was this a Twitter moment?  Did Twitter ignite the protests in Iran and abroad?

    Not so fast, says Ethan Zuckerman, founder of the "citizen's media" website Global Voices Online.

    "A year after the fact people have tried very, very carefully to get a count of how many people were actually twittering from within Iran," he says.  "And those estimates, the estimates I find most reliable range from several dozen to a couple hundred."  

    According to Alec Ross, the senior advisor on Innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, there is very little information to support the claim that Facebook or Twitter or text messaging caused the rioting or can inspire an uprising.

    "What I have yet to see is a piece of data, a single piece of data, a single study that says, you know, access to information in environments of historic inter-cultural, inter-ethnic conflict has the following outcome when overlayed with a social media strategy," he cautions.

    "The Internet is a wildly powerful and disruptive tool.  It can be used for good, it can be used for ill.  It disrupts markets, it disrupts communication, it changes the way people connect and collaborate with one another, but it's just a tool, and it's a tool used by people for a variety of different ends."  

    In other words, Ross says, social media may have some power, but like everything else, it has limitations.   

    With regard to the news out of Iran, Sanaz, an Iranian student studying in the US, says the social network websites at least helped get the news out about events after the election.

    "It's absolutely crucial for people to be able to use these websites," says Sanaz, "because otherwise a lot of the news may not have gotten out, if the foreign journalists or Iranian journalists are banned or forbidden from doing their work."

    Largely because these social media tools are so new, those who study its effects have more questions than answers about its influence on conflict and change.  

    "What we're really interested in is when someone comes up with a novel way of thinking and framing something," says Ethan Zuckerman, "not just how that quote spreads through time, but how that idea spreads through time."  

    Complicating matters, while analysts try to understand the uses and limits of social media, the technology keeps reinventing itself.  That's especially true in developing countries, which in some cases have leap-frogged over cumbersome personal computers, instead using their phones as computers.

    That's according to Colin Rule, who is eBay and PayPal's first director of Online Dispute Resolution.   

    "And these phones are getting smarter all the time," notes Rule. "So, they can do text messaging, they can do voice communication obviously, but they can also start to access parts of the web and as they get more and more powerful they'll be able to access more and more of the web."

    This may nowhere be more true than in many African nations, where use of mobile phones and other portable devices is exploding.  Marc Lynch is an associate professor of international affairs at George Washington University.

    "I think one of the things which we all grapple with as social scientists trying to deal with this is that it's implausible that this fundamental transformation in the way people process and receive information and the way information flows, is its implausible that this doesn't matter."

    So what's the real world impact of social media?  Can BlackBerrys and smart phones inspire demonstrations?  Does Twitter, Facebook or YouTube make it easier or more difficult to organize large, diverse groups of people?

    Answering that question, says Marc Lynch, remains "maddeningly difficult" and will for some time.

     

    You can learn much more about how the Internet is changing our lives by visiting our website "Digital Frontiers"

    You May Like

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora