Social Media & Politics: Reconsidering the Twitter Revolution
Last week, my colleague Leila Zand (director of civilian diplomacy at the Fellowship of Reconciliation) led a presentation and discussion on the power of social media in the current political climate — especially in the Middle East during the recent so-called Twitter Revolution. The audience was a group of young adult multifaith peace interns at the Stony Point Center, through its Community of Living Traditions. Her comments and the group of my peers who engaged them provoked me to think more about this topic, since social media has become so central to the way that my generation, in particular, communicates with one another.
Social media and politics are intertwined. In today’s world, we are all becoming more and more dependent on technology for our daily world news. Twitter and Facebook are the daily news. Instead of watching world news on television or listening to the radio, we are looking at friends’ blogs, links posted on friends’ walls on Facebook, and tweets posted on Twitter.
We have reached a new time in which people are questioning if the Internet really does bring democracy. From Iran to Egypt, we have seen that social media deeply impacts the world in which we live in. From all of the uprisings in the Middle East, it is evident that citizens there use the Internet to connect to the rest of the world.
After the 2009 presidential election in Iran, frustrated Iranians wanted their voice to be heard and the only way to do so was via Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube. It has been over two years since the anniversary of the election and people are still aiming for change. Out of all the ways to make an impact, from demonstrations, protests, tweets, Facebook statuses, Facebook links, Facebook groups, and Facebook pages, I really enjoy watching the Flashmobs.
The specific Flashmob that I am referring to took place at the Paris Centre, Place Carrée on Thursday, June 9, 2011 at 7:15 p.m. This date marked two years since Iran’s disputed election. So, in accordance to/with this, United4 Iran and Move4Iran, two organizations supporting human rights in Iran, created this Flashmob. Click here to view the Flashmob and learn more information about it.
In addition to everyday citizens making efforts to show the world through media that that they have a voice, activists, as they are also citizens, use social media sites as ways to convey their messages to the global community. By doing so, they are effectively demonstrating their efforts towards peace. Activists in the United States are using the Internet more and more to reach out to citizens in the Middle East. In this way, it is much easier for activists to understand what is happening in different regions of the world, specifically in the Middle East.
In Leila Zand’s talk on the Twitter Revolution, she covered many vital points about the relations of social media and the political world. Zand described an account of when she was in New York City opening her computer to find out via Twitter that a famous Iranian filmmaker was being imprisoned. The ironic part of this account was that the filmmakers’ family found out about his imprisonment 30 minutes later via phone. Because of what happened, Zand believes that most of the young generation depends on social media for their news, therefore, it is “dangerous because most of us [young people] know this is the only way of activism.”
As one can see, social media has its good qualities and bad qualities. Twitter and Facebook can be and are tools for nonviolent revolutions but at the same time, the government can control them. For example, after the 2009 presidential election in Iran, the government cracked down on information being posted on social media sites. So, because of what has happened in the Middle East, Zand believes that “Facebook and Twitter can control us in our daily lives.”
Basically, the government is controlling social media, which is controlling people all over the world, especially in the Middle East. It is unfortunate that social media is being cracked down on. It just means that global citizens need to be careful what they post online. Because of the fact that social media and politics have a very close-knit relationship, it is up to today’s generations to post to the future.
Yasaman Sherbaf, a student at the University of Tampa (Florida) is a 2011 program intern with FOR’s Task Force on the Middle East.