The Education of the Tweet and Blog Classes
I was struck by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt by the juxtaposition of explanations for these revolutions. We heard of one set of very modern explanations that included Facebook, tweets, cell phones, and the Internet. This also included the more traditional reporting of CNN and the yet unexplored influences of new news outlets such as Al Jazeera. Even if we do not get all excited about how new media are bringing about a utopian consciousness it is surely the case that social media played an important role. It was the tweet and blog class then, young educated hipsters, which brought about revolution. This is the modern communication technology explanation. Facebook facilitates new public spheres and the resultant communication constructs new revolutionary realities.
But it’s also possible to point to Mohammed Bouazizi’s self immolation as a protest over the seizing of his produce and his disrespectful treatment as the action that provoked the opening moments of the demonstrations in Tunisia. Self immolation is so horrifying to the West, and so removed from our consciousness, that it provokes deep identification with the conditions that produce it. The depth and intensity of the protest must be so great that it has prompted this horrific act. This is the primal explanation; this is the explanation that blames the depths of human depravity for revolutionary conditions, not modern technology.
The tweet and Facebook classes are steeped in more abstract principles of democracy and human rights, the sort of thinking that comes from formal learning and classroom experiences. These are the ideas handed down from the intellects of previous generation. The primal explanation bubbles up from our reptilian brain and expresses itself in the raw violence of something like immolation.
Most of us are influenced by the Tweet and Facebook class because that is how we live today. We feel as though the tweeters and Facebookers are on the right side of history, that they are the future. So in believing that tweets and Facebook are responsible for noble revolutions, we are believing in our own world. We are attracted to, and likely to overestimate, the power of social media because it confirms our own consciousness.
It is the primal explanation that fits the rape of the CBS correspondent Lara Logan. This is a part of protest and revolution that we do not want to think about. But when we do think about it we feel as though the veil of democratic civility has been lifted and feel once again the hate and violence that is part of such revolutions. The tweet and blog class is cultivated and articulate but behind them is a mob with distorted beliefs and an inability to make distinctions that would separate an earnest journalist from hated political figures.
And Al Jazeera is finally having the revolutionary effects we all thought possible. Al Jazeera has been broadcasting for 15 years and its images are having powerful effects. Al Jazeera certainly has a perspective but it is not propaganda. They showed images of angry people and bloodied bodies and these were in sharp contrast to the spurious statements of regime leaders. While Egypt’s controlled media showed pleasant images of traffic going by Al Jazeera was showing protests and calls for freedom. It was a classic example of the power of the press to bring information and perspective to citizens.
As reported by Al Jazeera, Egypt broke its contract and cut Al Jazeera’s access to the satellite thus denying the Al Jazeera audience access to what was going on in Egypt. But fortunately, other Arabic language TV stations picked up the Al Jazeera signal and the images continued to be available. The genie of free press and information rights has fled the bottle of Arab dictatorships. It is simply impossible now, or at least much more difficult, to control the images and information that the public deserves to see. The tweet Facebook class is gaining the upper hand.