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A few weekends ago I went to Berlin and hung out with a friend from freshman year, a girl from Ukraine who moved to Florida when she was 10. She always posts on Facebook about the corruption and unrest in her home country, and when I asked her about if social media had a profound effect on how the revolution played out two years ago, she said that without social media, people’s revolutions like in Ukraine (on top of numerous other countries) would be much easier for the government to quash.

Malcolm Gladwell’s somewhat cynical piece on “Why the revolution won’t be tweeted” claims that because using social media is innately a static activity rather than an action with tangible results, social network sites don’t help (and, in fact, hurt) causes trying to effect a change. Since its writing, however, multiple so-called “Twitter Revolutions”—from Moldova to Iran to Tunisia to Egypt—have proven that social media often play an integral role in civilian uprisings.

For a more recent and closer-to-home example, consider New York City after the deaths of unarmed Michael Brown and Eric Garner by rogue police officers. Nearly all promotion of planned protests spread on Facebook and Twitter; the “Millions March” that started on campus in Washington Square, for example, was planned weeks in advance and allowed time to spread on social media. One march that I participated in—from outside my dorm at Union Square to the NYPD Headquarters downtown—I’d seen circulating on Twitter beforehand.

Protestors in front of the Ferguson Police Department (and fire station and municipal court), days after a county grand jury chose not to indict Officer Darren Wilson. Countless images of police-protestor standoffs flooded social media in the months following the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner

Protestors in front of the Ferguson Police Department (and fire station and municipal court), days after a county grand jury chose not to indict Officer Darren Wilson. Countless images of police-protestor standoffs flooded social media in the months following the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner (source)

In Ukraine, protests erupted after the Ukrainian president rejected an agreement that would have led to closer interaction with the EU and gradual separation from Russia and Vladimir Putin’s looming influence. In addition to spreading the word about protests on Facebook and Twitter, Ukrainians used tools like these to cover developments that mainstream media was choosing to ignore. We saw the same thing happen with the protests in Taksim Square in Istanbul, in Cairo’s Tahrir Square following the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak, and even closer to home in Ferguson, Missouri.

This iconic image of the Egyptian Revolution circulated throughout social network sites

This iconic image of the Egyptian Revolution circulated throughout social network sites (source)

Does this mean that Gladwell was totally wrong in his belief that revolutions and movements originating from or that apply social media tools never amount to tangible action? Not entirely, but that belief has been mostly debunked in recent years since the rise of sites like Twitter and Facebook. Social network sites have allowed for the spread of ideas, the promotion of demonstrations, and the broadcast of live, on-the-ground events that mainstream media outlets either miss or purposely ignore. Slacktivism still remains a persistent problem on social media (and the go-to criticism for social media activism cynics), so the question isn’t about WHAT social media can do for revolutions, but HOW people can use these tools to further advance their cause.

 

Featured image courtesy of Jose Luis Orihuela

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One thought on “Sometimes, The Revolution CAN Be Tweeted

  1. I totally agree that the question about if social media is beneficial or detrimental to society depends on HOW people use it. The Ukrainians definitely used social media tools to their advantage during the people’s revolution. It is a great way to provide outlets of information that mainstream media refuses to cover. Spreading the word about protests and movements during revolutions as well through social media can usher in a quicker and larger response than ever before.

    I think another way social media can be beneficial is in bringing people together to commemorate revolutions like this.

    Very recently the Czechs and Slovaks celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. On November 17th, 1989 thousands of university students gathered in Prague for a peaceful demonstration to commemorate International Students’ Day. Little did they know that their seemingly innocent protest would end with a police riot and brutally violent attacks. A storm of popular protests came about soon after which finally led to the liberation of Czechoslovakia and the appointment of the country’s first non-communist government in more than four decades.

    The Czechs and Slovaks remember this day with great pride. Today we can now all see this portrayed on social media. On Twitter, there is a #VelvetRevolution hash-tag that people have been using to spread the values of #peace and #humanity. People are also utilizing the hash-tag to connect with others, share their blog posts and books about the matter, and generally acknowledge the amazing recent history of Czechs and Slovaks.

    Too many people are ignorant of the great history of Eastern Europe and all the countries in this region has been through. I’ll be honest that I really didn’t know much about the Velvet Revolution until studying in the Czech Republic, and I had no idea about any Ukraine history before reading this post. Social media is a fantastic way to promote and develop the facts and feelings of these cultures and their national pride. We have these amazing tools to connect to people all over the world – it is time we start using them to actually get to know these people, who they are and how they came to be who they are.

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