Pointless Question Of The Week: Was Tunisia A 'Twitter' Or 'Wikileaks' Revolution?

from the dumb-question dept

Like many people, last week, I was paying attention to the events going on in Tunisia, mostly via following some Twitter feeds. However, we received a number of submissions and requests suggesting we write about the so-called "Twitter revolution" or "Wikileaks revolution." However, I think it's both silly and demeaning to try to diminish what's actually happening in Tunisia by trying to name what happened after one of the various elements that may have played a role in what's happening. We've seen this before. Over in Iran, of course, there was lots of talk about how Twitter "played a role" in the uprising, and it was then dismissed by people because things didn't really change (and it's arguable how much of a role it really played). Of course, as Clay Shirky has pointed out, new means of communication have certainly been useful in organizing political protests.

I didn't write anything about this last week, because it seemed that what was going on was too chaotic to actually know -- and the fact that people were jumping up and giving credit to Twitter or Wikileaks seemed more like an attempt to claim credit, when it was clearly way too early and way too nuanced to say. Thus, I tend to agree with folks like Jillian York, who says that it's simply way too early to understand the impact of Twitter or Wikileaks (if anything) on this event.

Furthermore, I'd argue that focusing on the role of either is silly and pointless. In the end, any sort of political uprising starts with the people involved. That they may use new tools of communication -- either with each other or the outside world -- is always interesting, and important to understand, but should never be considered the root underlying cause of the larger event. Ethan Zuckerman claims that Twitter can take "some credit" for the events "but not all of it," to which I would ask: in what political uprising can you ever claim that any one particular tool or technology deserves all of the credit. The world doesn't work that way. This isn't to diminish how either Twitter or Wikileaks might have world changing impacts (or have already), but trying to pigeonhole a much larger event into a bucket with a label would be a mistake.


Reader Comments (rss)

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    James Carmichael, Jan 17th, 2011 @ 7:38am

    It's all about the hits

    Good point; too many reporters over simplifying facts so they can be delivered in easily digestible bits to their readers, along with a sensational headline featuring one of the hip new technologies. The faster you publish a story like that, the better are your changes at getting those precious 'hits', resulting in sweet, sweet ill-gotten gains.

    For most readers, those biased articles are the smartest thing they can handle, but I still believe reporters should be smarter than that and have a responsibility to give an accurate view of what's going on. That's of course assuming that reporters ought to be any smarter than their readers, and I'm pretty sure even that's misguided.

    Kudos to Mike and many others to dig much deeper and peak behind the smoke and mirrors, though of course kudos to the TechDirt community who's smarter than the average newspaper readership and are therefore smart enough to demand and understand the real story, with all their intricacies.

     

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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jan 17th, 2011 @ 7:40am

    And really, what difference does it make?

    "This isn't to diminish how either Twitter or Wikileaks might have world changing impacts (or have already), but trying to pigeonhole a much larger event into a bucket with a label would be a mistake."

    Twitter and Wikileaks may have a place in this, but to point at that technology as the reason behind what is happening in Tunisia is absolutely silly. More importantly, it distracts from the true revolutionary bravery the people of that country displayed. Reports like this allow Western populations to say, "Ah ha! Look at what Twitter did!", rather than face what it takes to really start a revolution.

    If you're not familiar with how this whole thing started, it began when a simple fruit vendor had his cart confiscated by the corrupt dictator driven police of Tunisia. As a response to this and the overwhelmingly horrific living conditions in that country, HE SET HIMSELF ON FIRE as a form of protest. President Ben Ali had begun to move national resources away from helping the poor and advocating for societal aid rather than governmental in assisting the poverty-stricken people.

    That, in addition to Ben Ali being firmly backed by the United States, led to youth riots and his eventual ouster. The Prime Minister handed power over to an interim president with new elections promised within two months. Human Rights watchgroups immediately reported an increase in such freedoms as internet access throughout Tunisia.

    This wasn't a Twitter revolution, it was an extremely brave and passionate citizen's revolution, sparked by a guy protesting with true bravery by lighting himself ON FIRE. That's passion and patriotism of the kind normally limited to Tibetan monks. Please, PLEASE don't diminish what those people accomplished for their country by focusing on the technology any more than you would by calling the American Revolution a "Printing Press Revolution"....

     

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      Dark Helmet (profile), Jan 17th, 2011 @ 7:44am

      Re: And really, what difference does it make?

      BTW, that was supposed to be in support of your post, Mike, and against the silly headlines you were commenting on....

       

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      Jay (profile), Jan 17th, 2011 @ 7:44am

      Re: And really, what difference does it make?

      I'd heard about the Wikileaks part where a cable went out about the riches of Tunisia while the country suffered. I read absolutely nothing about a guy setting himself on fire!

      Then again, it's taken a while to hear about the people starving themselves in Cuba as well...

       

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        Dark Helmet (profile), Jan 17th, 2011 @ 7:50am

        Re: Re: And really, what difference does it make?

        "I'd heard about the Wikileaks part where a cable went out about the riches of Tunisia while the country suffered. I read absolutely nothing about a guy setting himself on fire!"

        That's my point. I'm trying to decide why that stuff doesn't make the media headlines in the States. It isn't as though "Wikileaks Sparks Revolution" is THAT much better a headline compared with "Guy Fucking Sets Himself On Fire Over Fruit Cart!!! ZOMG!", is it?

         

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          Dark Helmet (profile), Jan 17th, 2011 @ 7:56am

          Re: Re: Re: And really, what difference does it make?

          "I'm trying to decide why that stuff doesn't make the media headlines in the States."

          NVM, figured it out. Ben Ali wasn't just a friend of the USA, he was actively involved as an ally in the CIA rendition program.

          Lovely....

           

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            CommonSense (profile), Jan 17th, 2011 @ 9:27am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: And really, what difference does it make?

            I was also going to add that if the media in the U.S. reported on the guy setting himself on fire, which sparked a revolution, U.S. citizens might get an idea that would actually have an impact. By reporting that "Twitter Sparks a revolution" the media effectively keeps the U.S. citizens at their computers tweeting about how mad they are, instead of actually doing something about it...

             

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        James Carmichael, Jan 17th, 2011 @ 8:18am

        Re: Re: And really, what difference does it make?

        "I read absolutely nothing about a guy setting himself on fire!"

        Maybe you need to diversify your news sources.

         

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          Jay (profile), Jan 17th, 2011 @ 8:35am

          Re: Re: Re: And really, what difference does it make?

          Ars Technica is good, but I don't particularly pay attention to TV sources (CNN/Fox).

          When it comes to what's happening around the world, I ignore a bit save for copyright. Reason being, it's all depressive to a degree and the bias is always either pro-business/ anti-consumer.

          Rhetoric aside, I can't find a good objective source. Even Real News Network is too biased (anti government) to pull views and compete with the big boys of media.

          So I guess, I'm still finding a newspaper/source for objective news. I may be searching for a while.

           

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            James Carmichael, Jan 17th, 2011 @ 8:51am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: And really, what difference does it make?

            I agree it's tricky to learn all there is to know about any story. A single source will never cover everything. I guess the important thing is to try to get as much info as possible and not to not make your mind up on an issue until you're confident you know enough to do so.

            I suspect Tunisia itself isn't sure exactly what's going on...

             

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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Jan 17th, 2011 @ 7:52am

    Like Duh.

    I believe the correct answer is: it was a Tunisian Revolution.

     

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    Alexander Graham Bell, Jan 17th, 2011 @ 7:52am

    I'll have you know that the telephone was instrumental in defeating the Nazis. And the Communists.

    It also helped cure polio.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 17th, 2011 @ 9:29am

      Re:

      The telephone makes coffee taste better, and gets rid of that horrible ring around the bath tub when it's dirty. I hear it also makes Rush Limbaugh smarter.

       

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    DearMrMiller (profile), Jan 17th, 2011 @ 8:19am

    But of course...

    Of course journalists frame things with a bias towards the technologies and stuff they themselves use. Macs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Most normal folks don't give a damn about Twitter, the only ones that care and report on it is the media because they make up a large percentage of the user base.

    For some support to my argument, check this out:

    http://www.google.com/trends?q=facebook,+twitter

    As you can see, the news reporting volume is similar to Facebook, but the actual user base and people that actively use the site have remained relatively static since it's inception. So what you've got is a skewed perspective purely based off the fact that most journos can't get enough of the self-congratulatory back-patting, propaganda, and mutual hand-jobbing that goes with Twitter.

    The more I think about it, the more I get annoyed with the media and major news organisations as they dance the dance of death in coming to grips with the fact that they no longer hold the only set of keys towards dissemination of information. What has happened is they have gotten more shrill, more noisy and more divisive and what they're reporting is increasingly out of step with actual reality. Crime for instance has been trending downwards for 2 decades however reports and media outcry in regards to crime has gone in the opposite direction. Or Swine flu again... took the Guardian weeks to actually acknowledge that despite their coverage on hospital beds running out, death in numbers, etc... that this year is actually mild in comparison to years past.. wouldn't want to sully the doom and gloom with actual facts. I could go on...

     

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    Whisk33, Jan 17th, 2011 @ 8:21am

    Tools take Credit

    Does this mean that we change MLKJr's day and give it to the Microphone?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 17th, 2011 @ 8:54am

    Neither. Tunisia is a "they doubled our taxes and living expenses" revolution.

     

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    MonkeeRench, Jan 17th, 2011 @ 9:36am

    Wikileaks and Tunisia Revolution

    The root cause of dam failure is an impoundment of water, but if the dam is appropriate to the floodway, well-built and well-managed, the failure usually doesn't happen. The root cause of a Tunisia-type of revolution is the years of stored-up unrest with no effective recourse to repression and corruption. The bad damming made-public was indeed the Wikileaks-triggered revelation and Twitter propagation of how cynical and corrupt was the international maintenance of the faulty dam. Tragic consequences take away, as usual in Geopolitik, many innocent as well as the guilty.

     

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    Kevin (profile), Jan 17th, 2011 @ 10:26am

    Wow a revolution

    (News Director) - Who can we blame for this revolution?
    (Reporter) - We saw there was some twitter activity, we could say it was twitter and quote some we pull from the net.
    (News Director) - Good, I like that. What about Assange or Wikileaks? A bunch of people are hating them right now.
    (Reporter) - There was a couple of documents which mentioned Tunisa and the CIA.
    (News Director) - Excellent, we tell everyone that wikileaks sparked it and twitter helped organize it. We better get a move one with this before Foxnews thinks of the same thing.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 17th, 2011 @ 1:01pm

    Information transmission and capabilities are a "force multiplier" as the U.S. Army likes to put it, they have already recognized its value that is why the vision of any future army is based on information deployment for awareness of your surroundings.

    With that said, Twitter and Wikileaks role was for me a amplifier that made it possible to people organize in a decentralized manner defeating the spy networks of that country, they never saw it coming, they didn't know who to target because new leaders were popping up all over the place.

    This is why "country anger management" is important, some people think they can do whatever they want and they will control the public through physical means which is possible but demanding(very demanding).

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 17th, 2011 @ 4:31pm

    Decades of suppressed anger, coupled with the despair brought Tunisia government down.

    If people have something to loose anything like a cart of fruits they will obey almost anything take that cart away and you have revolution.

    Twitter more than Wikileaks played a crucial role enabling people to express their discontent and it was so widly spread that there was no stopping desperate people from doing it so. It happened in the U.S. several times is just that people don't remember how bad things were in the 30's and 40's.

    Civil unrest has declined in the U.S. because it became more free and people found ways to voice their grievances but it only happened in the 80's, other countries will have their share of civil unrest until they found social escape valves for people to have their voices if not heard at least spoken.

     

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    AnonCow, Jan 18th, 2011 @ 2:18pm

    I think it was caused by The Who and their anti-government song "Won't Get Fooled Again" and I can probably come up with as much supporting documentation as either competing "theory"...

     

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