There are times when I wish Twitter was not named “Twitter”. Times like now, when one of the most populous countries in Africa (or Middle East) has a revolution. I’ve been glued to my twitter stream every night, sometimes all night, reading along as a revolution unfurled in live time.
I want to clarify that it is the apex of a revolution that has the attention of the twitterverse. The actual revolution started around 2003.
For me, I started paying attention to the Jan25 hashtag when a person I follow on twitter said he was leaving South Africa and flying back to his native Egypt to be in Tahrir Square to add his voice to the peaceful protests. He has been tweeting the entire time, and in the process accumulated over 11,000 followers. Not only does he provide his own in-the-moment narrative, he retweets, replies and adds links. I started following the tweeters he was in conversation with, that way I could read their exchanges. There is NO filter. There is no editor, publisher, advertiser, public relations person. Instantly available thoughts, feelings, fears, actions, experiences detailed in 140 characters. And even then, you just keep tweeting.
How do I describe this? Is it hard to imagine what I’m saying? Here are some of the tweets that came into my stream:
ArabRevolution تباً لك ياطاغوت BREAKING: Over 750 injuries in todays clashes. Al Jazeera#Egypt #Jan25RamyRaoof: beside committees to guard private/public properties, there are committees to clean the streets in Cairo
And then there were pictures uploaded from phones via TwicPic and YFrog from people on the ground:
Ok, so between the Al Jazeera English live streaming and the constant twittering of people in Tahrir square, I kept thinking, “when is the government going to start killing people? When will the tweeting stop?” No really, every morning when I woke up after having slept a few hours, I would expect some of them to be gone. I have so little faith in actual, true democracy. I am jaded. I am skeptical. I am a US citizen and I don’t believe in the power of protests.
And they knew it. They felt really sorry for those of us who could not comprehend a peaceful revolution.
But they were very aware of how their absence from twitter could be read. If their phone batteries drained before recharging, they would find a way to use someone else’s to tweet so it wouldn’t be assumed that it was them, not their phones, that had died. The gathering momentum that led to the protests, the joy, the violence, the beatings and arrests and disappearances and the resolutions to remain peaceful, to care for Cairo, to refuse to be disappointed, are all there. In live time, as it occurred.
When people did begin to die, when the beatings and stabbings occurred, tweets roared across the twitter streams that there was no pro-mubrak faction, that this was not the people fighting the people, that there was no civil war brewing, that it was a tactic, that the hundred of thousands of people standing together in peaceful defiance knew they had to endure the violence but were not going to indulge in it themselves. The people refused to let their revolution be highjacked. They had the power of narrative.And still, even then, I really kept waiting for the government to end it all.
I love being proved wrong. Really. It makes my heart feel fuzzy.
So why does the name of Twitter bother me right now? Because it sounds superfluous. It sounds self indulgent. It sounds ineffectual. It sounds like twitter/twatter chitter/chatter. A year from now when I’m in a conversation with some anti-Islamist, who spouts out the internalized fear mongering of mainstream news outlets, they are going to ask where I got my info, and I’m going to have to say “Twitter”.
Yes, I’m already anticipating having to correct the misinformation of the mainstream, because you and I both know that US Americans are flipping the fuck out right now about Islamic fundamentalism, the price of oil and the effects this populist uprising will have on Israel, so really, depending on how the future unfolds, this revolution will be re-written.
I am so happy for the people of Egypt. I am also so afraid how the US will have a hand in fucking this up. And it will be up to us, those of us who read and watched in real time, to counter whatever spin Rupert Murdoch and his ilk place on Egypt’s Revolution. Lucky for us, and unlike any other time in history, we have evidence from primary source material… mother fucking Twitter.