The Tunisian Revolution on Facebook?
I’m not sure if David Kirkpatrick, author of the pro-Mark Zuckerberg The Facebook Effect, and David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times journalist recently reporting from Tunisia, are the same person. I suspect not. Still, I thought it was a remarkable coincidence when David D. Kirpatrick cited the following as evidence for Tunisian strongman General Rachid Ammar’s growing popularity:
On Facebook, a staging ground of the street revolt, almost 1,700 people had clicked that they “like” a Web page named “General Rachid Ammar President” and emblazoned with his official photographs.
The coincidence proved especially powerful because the first few pages of David Kirkpatrick’s The Facebook Effect celebrated Facebook’s ability to organize popular netroots opposition to FARC in Colombia.
This in turn reminded me of Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent New Yorker article “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not be Tweeted.” In response to those who praised the role of Twitter and Facebook in bolstering Iran’s recent and shortlived “Green Revolution,” Gladwell noted that real protest, like the 1960 lunchcounter sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina, takes place with tremendous effort, face-to-face organizing, and genuine sacrifice: putting jobs and school on hold so you can sit at a segregated lunchcounter for days on end. That kind of movement takes much more energy than simply clicking “like” on a Facebook page or retweeting a political tweet. Of course, people did actually take to the streets in Iran, but the point is that they were the real revolutionaries, not the ones who watched safely from their computer monitors.
I have no idea what’s about to happen in Tunisia, or Lebanon, or anywhere else where revolution is brewing. I hope that Facebook and Twitter can aid progressive and popular social movements. But with an eye to history, I, like Gladwell, suspect that real change comes only with real sacrifice, with solidarity forged through strong emotional ties rather than cyber-friendship.
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