Does Libya need Twitter?
During this period of change and protest Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Iran, Algeria, Yemen and Bahrain, observers have noted the role that social media has played in facilitating both communication for protesters and providing news sources for journalists. In the quest for flashy headlines, it's possible that some have given Twitter and Facebook a tad too much credit for engendering political change.
Dean Takahashi in Social Beat claims that the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt were "set off by social media" and notes Twitter and Facebook's uses as "tools of the revolution." Takahashi concludes:
If social media has ever had its greatest moment, it’s now. It shows that the power of the network effect can work in political revolutions just as it does in other parts of our lives.
Interestingly, NPR reported that in Libya, anti-Gadhafi activists have taken to using a Muslim dating site to communicate, passing coded messages back and forth to each other. Because the Libyan secret police monitor common internet sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, the activists were forced to find another platform for communication. Enter the Mawada dating site: what a democracy uses for coffee dates, those under dictators use for revolution.
Notice here that bloggers and journalists aren't rushing to label that phenomenon "the Mawada Revolution" to succeed "the Twitter Revolution"? Perhaps our love of social tools such as Twitter and Facebook are leading us to give too much credit to the tools rather than the craftsman. Recently, since repressive governments are hip to Twitter and Facebook as communication tools for populist political communications, activists are finding alternate methods of communication, such as the creative idea of communicating via a common dating site. Where once the use of Twitter during government crackdowns was news, now a dating site is providing the newest social media platform for communication in times of unrest.
And while I find it fascinating at the creativity of sending coded messages through a dating site, let's get some perspective and credit the activists here, not the tool.
This shows that the platforms, while useful and innovative, aren't revolutionary. What is astounding--and astoundingly consistent--in the tales of political change we've seen over the last few years is the extraordinary human capacity to find a platform for communication, no matter the restrictions.
But surely the least interesting fact about them is that some of the protesters may (or may not) have at one point or another employed some of the tools of the new media to communicate with one another... People with a grievance will always find ways to communicate with each other. How they choose to do it is less interesting, in the end, than why they were driven to do it in the first place.
Yes, the use of Twitter and Facebook to facilitate political change is interesting. Let's just not forget that behind every Twitter account is a human being seeking to express him- or herself.