Recently there has been a lot of debate over what role social media, twitter in particular played in the uprisings in the Middle East. Many said these platforms were important but others pushed the envelope by saying that these revolutions wouldn’t be successful without social media. The ongoing case of Anna Hazare’s fast unto death against Lokpal Bill in India is a natural experiment to test these arguments.
As I write: On ground: Sh Hazare’s fast has entered the second day today. There seems some momentum (150-200 people at Jantar Mantar) similar numbers in central locations in some other cities around the country.
On twitter: Thousands of people are tweeting their support.Many thousands more are ‘retweeting’ these tweets further. The topics are also top trends in twitter. There are 20-30 new tweets flowing in every minute for the last 3 hrs at least. I ask ‘SO WHAT’.
I suspect the actual impact is nowhere as strong as the volume of tweets would suggest.Get into the content of tweets.
- It is mostly self styled opinion leaders, film stars and other celebrities enhancing their own brand value by tweeting for a good cause. These tweets are being retweeted by their followers.
- Another category of tweets is the news channels trying to enhance their viewership by seeking opinion polls and advertising telecasts related to the issues.
- Of course some jokes are among the most circulated tweets.
In sum, there is no collective action being planned actively on twitter nor is twitter contributing to more people joining the actual movement.
Overall the movement remains as strong or weak as it would have remained without this social media intervention. Perhaps there is greater awareness but to my mind tweeting about this is not very different for a majority of people than say congratulating the Indian team for winning the cricket world cup.
In short, despite the immense exuberance on social media, this revolution is yet to become exuberant on the steets, which was the defining aspect of Middle East uprisings. For instance, Interntional news websites (like BBC, CNN and NYT) do not even have a mention of it on their home pages.
They and many others will only take note when Indians in large numbers take their tweets to the streets.