THE BLOG
10/16/2012 02:53 pm ET Updated Dec 14, 2012

Twitter Did Not Foment the Arab Spring

Twitter Founder Biz Stone says 'All Social Media is Political.'

One of the best marketers I know who runs major U.S. Technology conferences from her offices in London and San Francisco said: "Tell Biz Stone to get back to the humble, inventive guy he used to be. He cannot take credit for the Arab Spring!"

This historical fact was confirmed for me recently by an Afghan public communications and media specialist, Ahamd Zia, who said in his best provincial government speak: "Twitter is playing an important role in democratization and our commitment to peace-building. We have to be connected to the rest of the world to tell our story about what is happening in our country."

I pressed Zia further asking, "Did social media really play a role in the last election in Afghanistan? After all, you still have the same president?"

"We didn't elect (Afghan President Hamid) Karzai, the international community did that for us, right?" he said with a smile. He said social media alone probably would have elected the other guy (Abdullah) who ran against Karzai in the last Afghan election.

I met with both Biz Stone, Twitter founder, and Zia, spokesman for the directorate of local governance for the Balkh Provincial Governor's Office of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, this week at the Public Relations Society of America conference. Stone was the keynoter and Zia, who also teaches at Balkh University in cooperation with San Jose State, asked the final question about the microblog at the meeting.

I interviewed both men backstage. Stone agreed with me that starting Twitter in 2008 during the Obama campaign was fortuitous. "We realized how important social media and microblogging would be, pivotal to Twitter, so I set-up a special unit with two 'candidates' going head-to-head" to test.

"We gave a Twitter handle to John McCain and then learned he was really doing his own tweets!" Stone said. "That is when I realized we better work hard because we are responsible for this (medium) to work. We were too slow and having some tech issues around the growth." Stone said he knew Twitter had arrived during the 2008 campaign.

"We had to convince the McCain campaign to join the community," said Stone. His people begrudgingly accepted.

Stone told me he was not even aware twitter had 10 million tweets during the presidential debate, allowing that he had moved on to new projects. But he did add: "All social media is political!"

Stone talked about the "democratization of information," during the PRSA meeting. Yet he knows that Twitter doesn't elect presidents (yet?).

"Leaders can rely on instant feedback, they don't need polls," said Stone.

Stone used Newark Mayor Corey Booker as an example of a smart local politician using Twitter to help him hear from people in real-time.

However, he noted during the convention that "the Chinese government is antithetical to what we believe in the U.S.; so we cannot really do business there. People are good and they find ways around (censorship) or they do their own microblogs."

He said Twitter must abide by the laws but believes it is inevitable that Chinese people will find Twitter "like water going to an ocean."

Twitter and other social media platforms need to be neutral technologies, Stone said. Clearly he believes his contribution is to allow people to have freedom of expression through tweets.

The founder told me people have to ask themselves how can they become a "citizen of the world." Still, ballots are not social; they are one-man-one vote in most countries and delivered one at a time.