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Egypt, Twitter and the Straw Man Revolution

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Megaphones don't cause revolutions. But they sure make your voice a lot louder.

I just don't get the seemingly never-ending debate about the role of social media when it comes to revolutionary protests. Here's the lastest salvo from Wired.

Don't call it a Twitter Revolution just yet. Sure, protesters in the Middle East are using the short-messaging service -- and other social media tools -- to organize... But don't confuse tools with root causes, or means with ends. The protests in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen are against dictators who've held power -- and clamped down on their people -- for decades. That's the fuel for the engine of dissent. The dozen or more protesters that self-immolated in Egypt didn't do it for the tweets.

Ok, everyone got that?

Twitter is not the root cause of these uprisings. Twitter was not repressed. Twitter did not get inspired by events in other countries. And when risks are taken, Twitter does not get beaten over the head with batons or blasted in the face with toxic gases.

All those parts are handled by people.

Twitter can help organize. Facebook can help get the word out. Telephones can help. And sometimes, one assumes, yelling across a courtyard plays a role.

How helpful is social media? I don't think we know the answer to that yet, but it's worth noting that repressive regimes are pretty anxious to shut off access to it when movements get rolling.

First Malcolm Gladwell framed this debate in a regrettable way -- which I touched on in an earlier post called "The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted (Unless It Is)" -- and now there is this often attacked straw man argument that social media is leading revolutions.

No one thinks that's the case. Twitter doesn't wear a beret. Facebook doesn't have a goatee and a cache of arms. And the Internet did not write this post.

But it made it a lot easier for me to get it to you.

More from Dave Pell at his blog: Tweetage Wasteland.

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