blah blah blah Twitter blah blah social blah.
There’s been a lot of talk one way and then the other about the difference (if any) twitter has had on the rolling protests “social media” have had on Tunisia, then Egypt, and now Libya. I think people have a spectrum of opinions from “it wouldn't be possible without Twitter” to “Twitter is just another tool”.
I think there’s one aspect of these demonstrations which a lot of people can probably feel but not really put their fingers on — that these social media are being used and are having some effect (if not impact), but the what and why of it is unclear. And I think it may have something to do with the fact that I, sitting comfortably in my computer chair in my faux free society can write "Go Egypt, you can do it!"
Perhaps what social media really gives isn’t an ability to organise or get information across. Perhaps this isn’t really about social media in a “practical” sense — as an information transfer network. Perhaps what’s really being transferred is “happy feelings”. On the side of the transmitter, social networks operate as a sort of commitment device, a virtual cheer squad, and the thing-that-makes-you-try-harder-because-attractive-women-are-watching. On the side of the receiver, they feel like they have an input into world changing events, and can feel closer to the transmitters.
On a more practical note, the protesters know that what’s being put onto a social network will stay there, and that any traditional media coverage will at least fall back on evidence in the public eye, that the people themselves can decide on. When previously Egyptian forces and the government may have been able to show the protesters as being violent, it is clear from the social media that the protests have been largely non-violent. Having this ability to affect perceptions across the globe might make the protesters bolder.
The “transmission” of these protests across borders might also be largely due to social networks — otherwise more timid groups (and in the case of Libya at least, these groups are rightly worried) may just have laid dormant. Likely new protesters are emboldened by news of the success of previous protests, but they are now also more confident that the news stories will get out. At the end of the day, it’s all about feelings.
I think social media transfers energy and passion of the protesters, not necessarily the news or hard content. I think the real value of social media is in the transfer of human feelings through the world.