In Libya, perfecting the art of revolution by Twitter
Every generation’s revolutionaries have harnessed the latest technology, from patriots pamphleting in 1775 to Egyptians texting in 2011. Thanks to YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, today’s Libyan rebels are having a dialogue with the globe, not just each other.
An Egyptian cab driver tells this joke to foreign reporters: President Hosni Mubarak dies and is greeted in the afterlife by former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who asks him how he died. Mr. Mubarak answers, “Death by Twitter.”Skip to next paragraph
Much has been written about the role of new media such as Twitter and Facebook in the so-called “Jasmine Revolution” that has swept the Middle East. But political rebels using the latest communication technology – from hand pamphlets to fax machines – is as old as tyranny.
What’s new is the speed and exponential power of today’s new media to jump over traditional boundaries of time and space, says Philip Howard, author of “The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Information Technology and Political Islam.”
Non-violent protesters and armed rebels all over the region have begun marshaling this unprecedented power to their cause.
“The media war is as important as the battlefield … if not more important,” a Libyan businessman, known only as Mohammed, told NPR. He is spearheading a delegation from Misurata to Qatar in search of weapons and money.
Protesters’ social-media learning curve
There has been a learning curve even among the most sophisticated media users, says Professor Howard, who researches information and communication technologies in politics and social development at the University of Washington.
In Tunisia, where fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation to protest the government became a cause célèbre, the news spread slowly, from a small number “who were close to him, who took pictures of his burnt and bandaged body and sent the images over trusted networks to families and friends. They passed them on and passed on the story,” he says.
A similar organic process spread the story of Khalid Said, the Egyptian blogger bludgeoned to death outside an Internet cafe, Howard adds. “He had been beaten, and a few family friends took pictures in the morgue and sent them by mobile phone to friends. His bruised face became the image that played out over social networks.”
Libyan rebels learned from the successes in Tunisia and Egypt. One of the most important lessons: Get the message beyond your own borders.
“Before the Libyan protesters had even met for the first time with their shadow cabinet government,” Howard says, “they had come together to build a website and send out the URL asserting their statehood.”