Tweeple Power

by wjw on January 20, 2011

It’s hard to find out what’s happening in Tunisia.   I mean, some kinda revolution, okay.   But for a revolution that’s supposed to be supported, maybe even created, by social media, it’s actually rather difficult to find online.

What’s clear is that, whatever’s happening, Western media missed yet another crucial story.   The first Arab autocrat to be overthrown by a people power revolt in, well . . . ever, probably, and all American media could find to interest them was Oprah’s  cable network and the new lineup on American Idol. (I mean, honestly . . . if you’re in Europe and you turn on CNN, you get honest-ta-god news. Turn on CNN in the States, and it’s tabloid news, celebrity news, and inane chatter.  Is there some way I can get the European feed, for chrissake?)

Anyway, Newspaper of Record, how does it feel to be scooped by Al Jazeera?  Again?

We’ve had so-called Twitter Revolutions before, but the actual social media content proved to be rather elusive.  Twitter Revolution I was in Moldova, a country with a tiny handful of Twitter users.  The actual demonstrations, of which the Tweetocracy was so proud, seem to have been organized by the state security forces in order to provide an excuse to crush the opposition.

Twitter Revolution II was Iran in 2009.   Iran makes a better case, since it had a technocratic elite, and the cellphone video of demonstrations was certainly riveting, but the enormous popular demonstrations we saw could hardly have been mobilized by tweets and chirps.  Old fashioned non-digital telephones and door-to-door activity probably played a much bigger role.

The social media aspect was played up by Western reporters because, having dropped the football, it was the only news they had.

Plus, the digitocracy was deeply flattered by the whole business.  You can imagine their narcissistic pleasure:   We’re not only hip, we not only have all the cool toys, but people are using our cool toys to create a new social order, and that makes us even more cool than we were already— (as if that were possible).

The revolution in Tunisia may have been something closer to the real thing, or it may not— certainly Tunisians don’t seem to be going out of their way to credit Facebook.  At least Slim Amamou’s tweets make riveting reading.  He tweeted when he was arrested, he tweeted from prison, he tweeted when he was released, and he tweeted when he was invited to become a member of the transitional government.  (He is Secretary for Youth and Sports.  Ol’ Slim’s not exactly standing upon a vehicle for massive social change.)

What’s certainly true is that new Arab media has changed the way stories are framed.  Al Jazeera didn’t create the story, but they told the world how the story should be read.  They’re the ones who are reporting on how people in other Arab autocracies are viewing the stories, and how those autocracies are reacting.  They’re framing the public debate throughout the Middle East.

There have been two game-changers in the last few months, and our media seems largely to have missed them, and why they’re important.   The first people-power revolution in an Arab country is massive.  It’s never happened before.  And in response Jordan rolled back price increases in food and fuel, and there are demonstrations in Cairo and Algeria (where, unlike Tunisia, the opposition has a strong Islamist ideology).

The second big story was the Stuxnet Worm, which represents the first truly successful cyberwar weapon.  Granted, the damn thing escaped, and now anyone can use it; but it seems to have done what it set out to do, which was set the Iranian nuclear program back three or four years.  No one’s done that before, either. It makes Russia’s denial-of-service attacks seem obsolete, doesn’t it?

Still, at least for me there was a certain nostalgia.  Just a leetle bit of been-there-done-that.  Because I wrote Deep State, which is in its own modest way a blueprint for people-power revolution via social media, except with, y’know, nifty characters and a really twisty plot.  Which, in just a few days, you will actually be able to buy.

Urban January 20, 2011 at 3:54 pm

And sometimes when you think you know what happened, because it concerned Swedish tourists, when they get back to Sweden it turns out to be different from the first accounts. (Hunters which were beaten by a “mob” – only the beating was done by some sort of police or para-military. The difference is significant.)

The controlled prices is a very important indicator, because it’s not possible for governments to give away stuff indefinitely with large portions of the young population unemployed and oil income about to disappear. Note that it was just a few years ago Tunisia had to start importing, instead of exporting, oil! This is not a co-incidence.

(Deep State pre-ordered.)

Ralf the Dog January 20, 2011 at 11:13 pm

I think the Stuxnet Worm destabilized the Tunisia economy using Twitter. The best bet would be to consult an ARG designer.

Ralf the Dog January 20, 2011 at 11:16 pm

Edited to say,

Deep State ordered. I am guessing with a name like Deep State, big parts of the book take place in Georgia or Alabama?

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