Unfollowing the Twitter revolution

The means are the medium, the message is the message.

Mike Munzenrider

Unless your television is broken, you speak to no one, you lost your phone or some nefarious force turned off your Internet, you are aware of the recent protests and unrest in Tunisia and Egypt.
Indeed, if you havenâÄôt escaped the coverage of the events in North Africa, you too have been force fed by the media the idea that these protests are indeed âÄúTwitter Revolutions.âÄù
First used to describe the unrest following the Moldovan parliamentary elections of 2009, this phrase âÄî already dubious when first used âÄî was gleefully reapplied in 2010 to IranâÄôs Green Movement. The Tunisian protests came to the fore once the use of Twitter was an exploitable fact, and now weâÄôre seeing the same old game in Egypt.
ItâÄôs a shame that âÄúTwitter RevolutionâÄù is invoked every time there is the idea that social media is used to organize people, independent of actual use. This take on the story becomes a quirky novelty instead of people organizing âÄî by all sorts of means âÄî to affect incredible change in the world.
At first glance, âÄúTwitter RevolutionâÄù is kind of neat. It smacks of the notion found in U.S. Weekly Magazine feature, âÄúCelebrities: TheyâÄôre just like us.âÄù WeâÄôre supposed to think, âÄúWeird foreign people use modern communications: TheyâÄôre just like us.âÄù It gives people from far away a tendency, a habit, a little bit of our own digital neurosis with which we can relate.
The phrase makes our time spent staring at our various screens seem like less a distraction and possibly a noble endeavor. Changing your Twitter profile picture to green in solidarity with Iranian protesters makes one feel involved, if not in actuality.
The illusion of participation in what is otherwise a spectator sport is why âÄúTwitter RevolutionsâÄù persist.
Media constructs such as âÄúTwitter RevolutionsâÄù take complex events involving complicated social and political issues and simplify them into status updates, hashtags and catch-phrases. In-depth reportage is lost to the meme.
âÄúSuperficial clichesâÄù is Lolla Muhammed NurâÄôs take on âÄúTwitter Revolutions,âÄù stated in a Jan. 24 column for the Minnesota Daily called, âÄúTunisiaâÄôs revolution wasnâÄôt televised.âÄù ItâÄôs not difficult to agree.
Beyond oversimplifying important events, âÄúTwitter RevolutionsâÄù break that age-old credo in journalism of not becoming a part of the story. In this aspect, it seems the media is convinced the medium is the message, and theyâÄôre a part of the medium.
The media love self-reference and a level of self-examination, this column being no exception.
By inserting Twitter and Facebook into coverage, news organizations and pundits are shoving extraneous media into stories that should otherwise be about whatâÄôs happening on the ground, not in cyberspace. If social media were not involved, how much coverage would communications receive, if any?
As evidenced in Egypt, the so-called âÄúTwitter RevolutionâÄù perseveres even after the Internet was mostly shut off last Friday. People, forced to respire to pre-Internet technologies, are using âÄúanalogâÄù means of communication and the protests keep growing. Sometimes, simply seeing others demonstrating in the street is enough to continue a revolution.
Could it be the technologies that brought us âÄúFarmvilleâÄù and the sitcom âÄú$#*! My Dad SaysâÄù that are now a driving force behind geopolitical upheaval? Sure.
But, in the end, stories of revolution and change, hopefully for the better, are not about the means of communication, be they pamphlets, papers, calls or tweets.
Revolutions are about people, politics and ideas, and are too complex to be waged in 140 characters or less.