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Are Tyrants Afraid of Twitter?

Published: January 18th 2011
in News » World

This revolution will be tweeted

Gil Scott-Heron famously titled his poem “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, which in today’s fast moving information age, is true. Revolutions are now tweeted, blogged, and “liked”, and in some cases, like Tunisia, can cause the fall of a government.


For social media to be effective, it usually needs a tangible, real life event to help spread it’s message. Last month, such an event occurred, and it showed so much desperation and misery in one person that the social sphere immediately knew that this was the event that could change history.


After having his unlicensed fruit and vegetable cart confiscated by the police, a young man, so frustrated with Tunisia’s high unemployment, soaring food prices and blatant and rampant government corruption, decided that the only means of bringing awareness to this situation was to set himself on fire. This act set off the month long rioting in Tunisia and the eventual fleeing of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who has been in rule for over 20 years.


While tweeting alone would have never caused Ben Ali to flee, it was an integral piece in letting the world know what was happening in Tunisia, helping spread news and pictures faster and wider than any television feed could reach.


Newspapers can be controlled, as can television, but social media cannot. There is a real fear in many countries which are run by dictatorships and outdated class structures, and where the social and economic situation is always on the cusp of explosion, that social media could lead to the next uprising. Content must be controlled there, and even though they try to control social media, that comes with it’s own set of challenges.


There are currently 13 countries which Reporters without Borders have titled “enemies of the internet”. These countries heavily censor all media which is show to it’s population, including YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. These countries, like China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Egypt and others, are ruled by governments which are afraid of free press, and social media has become their biggest enemy.


The only country in the world with total control over internet-connect computers is North Korea. There, whatever information you see if what they want to feed you. In the rest of the countries, total censorship is impossible.


The effects of the collapse of the Tunisian governments will be fully understood once a new government is established and we can gauge the results of said government. If the citizens of countries like Egypt, where the economic, social and political situation is quite similar to Tunisia’s, see that there was a positive impact due to the riots then we can fully expect the same will occur there. Even the simplest of changes, like Tunisia’s food prices already having dropped by 5%, have people discussing where the next revolution will take place.


So expect to see shrinkage of cyberspace freedom over the next few months in most, if not all of the above countries. The irony is that if these countries take away Facebook and Twitter altogether, that may be reason enough for their citizens to start a whole new revolution.

Related articles: (Social Media, Revolution, Tunisia, Facebook, Twitter)

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