If the events in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco don’t make people sit up and think about social media, then maybe what is occurring in Libya will change some hard held notions. Any day we should expect a retraction from Malcolm Gladwell: his seminal article in the New Yorker essentially stymied any notion of social media being the instigator of primal societal change: (quoted from gladwell.com)
The drawbacks of networks scarcely matter if the network isn’t interested in systemic change—if it just wants to frighten or humiliate or make a splash—or if it doesn’t need to think strategically. (read the article)
What Gladwell, and to fair to him, many other detractors, still do not understand, is the nature of social media – how connected platforms like Facebook and Twitter are agents of action.
Social Media can only be a catalyst for any movement. Real change, like overthrowing governments – which has occurred in Tunisia and Egypt, and might be the result in Libya, obviously can only happen with a mass movement of people physically defying the forces of the status quo, often with their lives. However, the question is open – would the dramatic protests, the willingness to confront walls of riot police, bullets, tanks and snipers, happened without social media?
There is security in numbers. The knowledge that others share a view, are wiling to create an action, reinforces self-held beliefs. The nature of social media is simply messaging, establishing a base and community platform where people of like mind can, and maybe will, act on the premise – take it from the cyber world to the streets. A Facebook call for action won’t happen without tapping into a meme, likewise – the meme might not act without a communal communication platform.
Social media also reinforces the action, and promotes ‘actionable’ communication’. The desperate efforts of Tunisia and Egypt to cut off the internet resulted in a worldwide effort to provide the protesters with dialup and bypass modes. Those largely worked to get video and messages out – not only to media like the BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera, but purposely for individuals to update social media – Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. The raw more important than the edited.
Why do people in a hostile zone come out to protest, in the face of tear gas, bullets, incarceration and torture? As it was put today in many twitter threads – and paraphrased – ‘we come with our phones and cameras, the world needs to see’. The protests in North Africa, Mid East and Arabia are fueled, somewhat, by an expectation it will be recorded, tweeted, posted on Facebook, and potentially inspire others – way beyond the locale, into the international sphere.
In the case of the unprecedented, and continually moving, protests across the Arab world – it can be said that social media platforms were the catalyst, the organization, the promoter…for better or worse.
What is enlightening, are the tweets coming from all areas of North Africa, the Mid East and Arabia – dedicated people who are either on the scene, or nearby – or simply creating, and acting as editor, of their own social media news stream.
This gets into the question of ‘what news is real news’. Can we trust a tweet, a video, a Facebook page? Not being a journalist, although aspiring to the ethics, an editorial filter is worthwhile – if simply to get rid of the rumour and follow citizen journalists who have the immediate knowledge.
Frankly, it is quite obvious the number of people on social media, especially twitter, act as a better editorial filter than any news room. A ‘rumour’ post without backup or attribution quickly gets discounted; a video needs date/time and some extra content – yet among the wealth of information, Twitter becomes the news filter.
What is happening now in Libya is unprecedented. Mainstream media is relying on social media to update the situation in most protest areas. Below is the twitter stream #libya