Tweeting for Democracy?

 

This week in DIGC202 we looked at what has become known as the “Twitter Revolution” – the Arab Spring and the debate about whether social media has the power to drive political change and activism.

The Arab Spring is a series of protests and demonstrations occurring in the Arab world which commenced in December 2010.  The Internet and social networking sites are being used by citizens in countries such as Syria, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia during the Arab Spring for three main purposes: to mobilise protests quickly; to undermine the legitimacy of a regime; and to increase both the national and the international exposure to a regime’s atrocities (Sanders 2011).

There are two main opposing views about the role that social media has the ability to play in a revolution. The two sides are headed by:

CYBER-REALISTS: These people discredit the claim that social media caused the revolutions in the Arab World.

CYBER-UTOPIANS: By contrast, cyber-utopians are ‘adherents of the view that digital tools of social networking such as Facebook and Twitter can summon up social revolutions’ (Morozov 2011).

Morozov (2011) notes a common conclusion that is come to by journalists and activists:

“Tweets were sent. Dictators were toppled. Internet = democracy. QED.”

He believes that declaring causation between social media use and the achievement of democracy during the Arab Spring and other political uprisings is technologically deterministic and inaccurate.  Morozov considers his school of thought to be that of ‘cyber-realism’; he argues that technology is ‘not enough to cause a revolution and in some cases new technologies can actually be counterproductive to the goal of regime change’ in terms of surveillance and censorship (Al-Jazeera September 1 2011).  In this way, according to Morozov, social media affords dictatorships and authoritarian governments greater power to control citizens.

On the opposing side, many people believe that Twitter and other social networking sites have been a major cause of the revolutions in the Arab world.  It is undeniable that social networking sites have been used to organise protests and have led to increased awareness both within involved countries and around the world about the events occurring during these uprisings.  Popova (2010) believes that the strength of social media lies in the progression of its three capacities: to inform, to inspire and to incite.  The Internet has the ability to generate a level of awareness that Popova deems has the power to overcome injustices. Twitter has been used to mobilise people to action on the streets and as a tool for activists to distribute valuable to-the-minute information.

Is social media a legitimate weapon in the fight for democracy? The reaction of Arab governments to this phenomenon demonstrates a governmental fear of the power that citizens with an Internet connection have against governmental control and authority.  The Syrian government has employed tactics such as ‘periodic shutdowns of the internet and mobile phone networks, intensified filtering of websites, and various sophisticated means of monitoring and tracking internet users’ online activities’ (Freedom House 2012).  Syria, Libya and Egypt also experienced total Internet shutdowns, and many dissidents have been arrested and several killed due to their online activities. Syrian citizen journalist and blogger Abu Hassam was targeted by regime forces and burned to death in his own home after actively filming and reporting on the events of the revolutions (Greenslade 2012). The murder, which occurred in September of 2012, was reported by Greenslade as being ‘the latest in a string of killings and kidnappings of citizen and professional journalists in Syria since the outbreak of the revolt in March 2011’.

So what do you think? I think social media has many characteristics that mean it can be a powerful tool when utilised properly. I believe it does raise awareness and can be a useful organisational tool to mobilise citizens and keep them informed. However, my opinion is that social media did not cause the revolution; I agree with Sultan al Qassemi (quoted by Flanagan 2011) who stated:

 

“It did play an important role. But social media facilitated – it did not cause [the uprisings].”

 

Thanks for reading!

Katie

References:

Al Jazeera 2011, Cyber realism versus Cyber-utopians, September 1, accessed 13/10/2012 via <http://stream.aljazeera.com/story/cyber-realism-versus-cyber-utopians>

Flanagan, B 2011, ‘Facebook revolution ‘a myth’, critics say’, The National, May 18, accessed 11/10/2012 via <http://www.thenational.ae/business/media/facebook-revolution-a-myth-critics-say>

Freedom House 2012, ‘Freedom on the Net 2012 – Syria’, accessed 30/9/2012 via <http://www.freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2012/syria>

Greenslade, R 2012, ‘Syrian blogger burned to death’, The Guardian, 21 September, accessed 10/10/2012 via <http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2012/sep/21/journalist-safety-syria>

Morozov, E 2011, ‘Facebook and Twitter are just places revolutionaries go’, The Guardian, March 7, accessed 10/10/2012 via <http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/07/facebook-twitter-revolutionaries-cyber-utopians>

Popova, M 2010, ‘Malcolm Gladwell is #Wrong’, Design Observer, accessed 14/10/2012 via <http://changeobserver.designobserver.com/feature/malcolm-gladwell-is-wrong/19008/>

Sanders, T 2011, ‘Twitter, Facebook and YouTube’s role in Arab Spring (Middle East uprisings)’, Social Capital Blog, January 26, accessed 10/10/2012 via <http://socialcapital.wordpress.com/2011/01/26/twitter-facebook-and-youtubes-role-in-tunisia-uprising/>

Image sourced from here.

Webification Project – Final Comments and Evaluation

10 blog posts and 188 tweets later, and I have reached the conclusion of my Webification Project. What a journey!

Coming up with my concept for this assignment was so much easier than I thought it was going to be. I have a great interest in reality television as well as new media, so this project seemed perfect. Each week, I watched a reality television show and tweeted throughout it on Twitter. Afterward, I wrote a blog post about the television show episode and also made comments about the reality television genre and how ‘real’ the content we are watching actually is.

I did blog posts on ‘Send in the Dogs‘ (Channel 9), ‘RBT‘ (Channel 9), ‘World’s Strictest Parents‘ (Channel 7), ‘The Farmer Wants a Wife‘ (Channel 9), ‘The Secret Millionaire‘ (Channel 9), ‘The X Factor‘ (Channel 7), ‘Four Weddings‘ (Channel 7), ‘MasterChef‘ (Channel 10), ‘Cops‘ (Channel 10), ‘The Commonwealth Games‘ (Channel 10) and ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians‘ (Channel 7).

I learnt a lot from this project. In terms of the blog posts, I really began to see how unreal the reality television genre is, and how reality is manufactured by the producers. Shows such as ‘World’s Strictest Parents’ and ‘Four Weddings’ were clearly edited and revised in a way that affects how real the content actually is. Every episode of these types of shows follows the exact same format – this is not a feature of real life. The editing process changes the meaning of the show’s content.  I also noticed how these shows which feature people being followed by cameras often result in the people overreacting or playing it up for the cameras. When the presence of the camera is known, they change their behaviour so as to result in more exciting television (for example, ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians’ and the phone throwing saga).  Talent shows such as ‘The X Factor’ definitely aim to achieve these ‘TV moments’ through the judges who say controversial things to the contestants in order to provoke a response.

However, the main thing I wanted to explore throughout this project was Twitter and how it can be used to enhance the television viewing experience.  Tweeting during these reality television programs, I felt as if I was part of a community of viewers all commenting on the programming. People were making witty remarks about things that were happening on the show, commenting about contestants, and simply making general observations about things that may have gone unnoticed to some viewers. For example, when I was watching ‘Cops’ and laughing about the crazy woman who sounded like she was on helium telling the officer that the drugs weren’t hers, the commentary on Twitter was amusing; most importantly, a few people pointed out she had a marijuana leaf tattooed on her arm, which made the whole situation so much more hilarious!

Tweeting throughout a television program allowed me to form part of a large viewing audience who was simultaneously enjoying the viewing content.  This type of commentary was particularly prevalent during ‘Junior MasterChef’. People generally prefer to watch television programs with family or friends. Sporting events are much more exciting when celebrated with company. Reality television programs are great to watch with others as there is always a lot to discuss and laugh about. With Twitter, this social commentary can occur between people all around Australia and even the world. During the Commonwealth Games, Twitter was used by many viewers to cheer on athletes and to discuss victories, dramas and controversies.  If you continually tweet during the same program each week, you will get to know those people who also watch the show, and if you ‘follow’ them on Twitter you can hear what they are thinking throughout the episode each week. In this sense, Twitter as a social networking site allows connections to be made between people with similar likes and interests.  It enhances the viewing experience as it gives the process of television viewing, which can be quite a solitary process, a social dimension which makes watching a program even more fun and interesting.

The structural elements of my Webification Project were quite easy to maintain.

1. The Blog

The Blog was very easy to set up and maintain. I inserted a Twitter feed into the page, and also tagged each blog post. After three or four weeks I realised that being able to read the full blog post of each show on the homepage was annoying and stretching out the page way too much, so I discovered how to cut off the blog post with a “Read the rest of this entry” link which made the page look a lot cleaner. I love the design I chose for this site. Coming up with the name was fairly easy; I felt so smart and original, until about week 5 when I googled ‘unrealityTV’ and discovered that there were numerous sites with this name, notably ‘Unreality TV – The UK and Ireland’s BIGGEST Reality TV Blog’. Oops! So much for an original name!

 2. The Twitter Page

Using Twitter was really simple. Lugging my laptop to the TV was too much effort, so I used the Twitter application on my iPhone and tweeted in style. Discovering what the hashtag was for each program sometimes caused dramas – on at least one occasion I realised that I was tweeting using the wrong hashtag which is why it seemed no one else was watching the program. My iPhone remembered each hashtag so I didn’t have to constantly re-type it, which made my life easier.

However, I think there were some problems with my Webification Project, or some things that could have improved my project.

 1. Lack of Television Shows to watch

I had no idea it was going to be so difficult to find a different reality television program to watch each week. What made it even more difficult is that I play sport and work most evenings, which is when most reality programs are on. This problem would not have existed if I had pay TV! Everyone knows that’s where the really good, trashy reality TV shows are! I still managed to get a different show each week, but it was quite difficult and stressful.

2. Should I have watched the same program each week?

To fully explore the social capabilities of Twitter in terms of the television viewing experience, it may have been better for me to watch the same reality television program each week. This may have been a bit dull in terms of blog posts, but in terms of Twitter it would enable me to establish relationships with other viewers of the show.

3. Trying to get followers/responses/blog post views or comments

My goal was to get as many Twitter followers and responses as possible. This was actually quite difficult. I think that maybe if I had done option 2 and tweeted about the same show each week, this could have been easier. I tried using StumbleUpon, Reddit and Digg in order to get blog post views up, but I don’t think this was very successful. Once again, perhaps if I followed the same show each week this may have been different, as I could have built up a consistent following.

Overall, I am quite content with my Webification Project. I would like in future to explore the Twitter phenomenon further, as I am interested in its capabilities as a tool which enables the communal watching of television. In addition, I am now really sceptical about reality television programs, as I am starting to see how this reality is very manufactured by the producers in order to appeal to viewers.  I may continue to use Twitter during television shows, as I find it makes the whole experience quite hilarious.

However, no matter how sceptical I get, I will still be a fan of reality TV… or unreality TV 🙂