Assignment 10 – AGAINST

Twitter was not necessary for the overturn of Mubarak.  For starters, the Egyptian population did not have consistent access to the Internet.  The Internet had been shut down throughout all of Egypt for days at a time (Heaven).  Also, only a quarter of Egyptians normally had access to the Internet (Kravets).  How many of those people have Twitter accounts?  If a form of social media were responsible for the revolution, it would be Facebook not Twitter.  There are more people playing Farmville than there are people on Twitter.  On a Facebook page, 80,000 people confirmed that they would show up to a protest (Kravets).

It was not a tweet that inspired thousands of people to take to the streets and voice their enraged outcries.  What fueled the protesters were decades of dictators who oppressed the people, the dozen or more protesters who performed self-immolation, and Wael Ghonim’s speeches in Tahrir square (Heaven) (Kravets).

Twitter may have been a tool used in the protests, but if it was shut down, the people would find another way.  In fact, since few Egyptians had access to the Internet, “street protests have grown the old-fashioned way:  by leaflets and spontaneous amalgamation…groups of people wander the streets and people spontaneously join them” (Kravets).  As Jackson states:  “human norms and interactions can substitute for technical fixes, sometimes with extraordinary efficiency.”  People have been bringing down governments long before the Internet, Facebook, or Twitter.  In the 1980’s barely any of the East German protesters had a phone.  In the French Revolution, people used the human voice alone (Gladwell). -Si

“Twitter has been framed – by its founders, no less – as an important news-bearing medium in this and many other situations of global portent” (O’Dell). The key words here are “framed” and “by its founders”, which correctly suggest that the argument that Twitter was necessary for the overturn of Mubarak in Egypt is not a valid one. There are several reasons that some can use to actually argue in favor of that statement. Most compelling is Jackson’s idea that, unlike national policy interests, which are limited by the borders of the nation-state, “the practice of science spills into the world at large, connecting researchers and communities from multiple institutional and political locations” (Jackson), meaning that cyberinfrastructure can grow and be transferred and adapted elsewhere without government intervention (for example, use of social media in Egypt), and propagate itself. However, there are limits to this, and it is easy to get carried away with such grand statements. For instance, the actual use of social media during the protests was in reality much smaller than it was made to seem. Only 14,642 Twitter users, out of 52 million users, identified their location as Egypt, Yemen, or Tunisia (O’Dell). This makes sense since, “at an individual level, the potential uses of public technology resources are limited by restrictions on the use of information in Egypt” (Mahad). Even more discouraging to the use of Twitter to protest is the fact that, “individual users of the Internet that challenge the state through acts of expression or coordinating opposition activity have been detained and harassed on a regular basis” (Mahad). While this type of oppression is precisely what was being protested in Egypt, it still does not mean that suddenly everyone was ignoring the risks and rushing to Twitter to voice their opinions, the argument that Twitter was “necessary” is vastly over-exaggerated. -Danae

First, it is true that cyberinfrastructure, particularly Facebook and Twitter, are impressive tools for organizing potential protests. This was true at the very beginning of the 2011 Egyptian revolution. The fact is, however, that the government shut down all relevant cyberinfrastructure too soon for it to be credited as “necessary” for the revolt. Twitter, Facebook, and nearly all connections within an outside of Egypt were such down on January 26th (Cowie). Demonstrations grew in February, culminating in Mubarak’s resignation on February 11th. If Twitter were really necessary, demonstrations would have reached a standstill by the end of January and the revolution would have ended in failure.

Second, it is probable that the Twitter allowed the revolution to begin more swiftly than it would have otherwise, with protesters arriving in Cairo at roughly the same time. However every revolution in history prior to Twitter’s creation in March 2006 has taken place without it. When corruption and citizen suffering hits critical mass, people will act. While Twitter might make modern revolutions run more quickly or smoothly, the revolts will happen with or without it. Such is the nature of human desperation.

Finally, the Internet is only one of many important forms of infrastructure. As Jackson discusses, we tend only to notice infrastructure when they are broken. Internationally we have grown accustomed to having the Internet as a constant resource. The fact that Egypt’s Internet was shut down called attention to it. I think this is a primary reason that so many are convinced it was really necessary. -Samantha

To say that Twitter was a pre-requisite for the Egyptian Revolution, underestimates, if not trivializes the real reasons for the unrest. It also ignores the fact that revolutions have been happening for centuries, many spreading over larger territories in shorter periods of time without the benefit of social media. Twitter is no more than digital Samizdat or pamphleteering – a tool for conveying information and ideas. The Wall Street Journal reminds us that “Revolutions have always been social and involved media”, pointing out that John Adams made the same claim for Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” in 18th Century America as people are making for Twitter[1]. To use Jacksons terms, Twitter’s influence on social and political activism is not a dramatic development arising from new technology but something more evolutionary in nature, part of the “long [revolutionary] now”.

Furthermore the jury is out as to the long-term value of media such as Twitter since there are dangers inherent in revolutionary Twittering. Participating in social media leaves a digital footprint, which those in authority can follow, and is also relatively easy for authorities to block or at least interfere with. The same technologies are also open to use by the official channels in many ways. Twitter is a fast and efficient way to spread misinformation (such as the “death” of Nelson Mandela) and recently The Guardian reported that the US State Department is researching ways of infiltrating social media discussions with fake personas to influence the debate[2]. In addition its use as a propaganda tool is yet to be tested, Mao Zedong would undoubtedly have embraced Twitter, his Little Red Book is after all full of nuggets of wisdom of 140 characters or less. -Gavin

To say that “Twitter was necessary for the overturn of Mubarak in Egypt” is to say that such a revolution would not have been possible without Twitter (thus being “necessary”). There are a number of arguments against this motion.

First, and maybe most abstractly, Twitter is just a mechanism of spreading information. Why not use emails, instant messages, SMS text messages, or phone calls? In fact, each of these alternatives listed seems a better alternative to Twitter for organizing protests. Using Twitter introduces a single point of failure, and if a government wants to cut down on dissenting Twitter feeds it only needs to block DNS requests to it. This, incidentally, actually happened when Egypt blocked Twitter. (1)

Twitter, in fact, is hardly a new technology at all. The Jackson article might describe it as a “consolidation” of technologies. Twitter mostly seems to combine a small form of “blogging” (limited to 140 characters) with a sort of RSS feed that notifies you of friends’ updates. Coincidentally, Facebook also has this capability, and may have easily replaced Twitter if it had not existed as a means of disseminating information.

Certainly Twitter isn’t the most robust in terms of security. Undercover riot police in the past have been known to infiltrate groups and spread misleading information. Twitter doesn’t

have a mechanism of blocking this, and it would seem that an Internet technology with a Web of Trust mechanism would be more suitable for communicating sensitive data like locations and times of meetings or protests.

Twitter provides an easy mechanism of sharing small status updates, but it is neither the first nor necessarily best mechanism for doing so. It may have helped in the process of overturning Mubarak, but it wasn’t necessary. -Josh

It’s a good thing the French peasants and scholars of the 1800’s had Twitter to organize and overthrow their feudal overlords. What, you mean they didn’t have Twitter? Facebook? Well, surely the French revolution is a myth, since they clearly lacked technological social networking.

And yet, the French revolution still occurred, as have thousands of others. As Malcolm Gladwell notes, “People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before the internet came along” (CNN). This is because no social networking site is the cause of rebellion. The foundations of uprisings always lie in the people who organize or revolt. To say that Twitter was necessary for the overturning of Mubarak in Egypt would belittle the efforts of the (relatively) few whose work was vital to the revolt, and over accentuate the role of technology.

While it is true that Twitter created a “relatively free arena” for activists to communicate with others, the change in infrastructure represented by the advent of such social networking sites as Twitter and Facebook has created “tensions in the developmental process” (Jackson).  Jackson states that the “growth of infrastructure is a powerful and potentially transformative process…in advantaging the work or life worlds of some, it may alter, threaten or degrade those of others.” Perhaps this is why Twitter has been given so much credit. Onlookers are blinded by the transformations brought about by Twitter in areas of social networking, but Twitter itself is just a change in infrastructure. It may have altered the mode of social networking, but it is no more important than the meeting place of past rebellion leaders.  -Diana

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