Twitter and Tear Gas – A Review

I have never considered myself an activist, per say. I can’t even say opinionated reflects my personality. I see the world as very nuanced and I am a bit indecisive in most arenas. 

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There are of course exceptions: I don’t tolerate disrespect, racism, bigotry, or sexism in anyway. What I wish, though, was that I was MORE vocal in efforts to dismantle people or organizations that buttress these evils.

What was fascinating about Zeynep Tufekci’s new book “Twitter and Tear Gas” was how technology addressed these injustices WITHIN the framework of such a nuanced world. Technology has been a solution for a long time, and it is inherently ß, but I didn’t connect it to bettering humanity necessarily. This book did just that.

In fact, it begs the question, how did protests work before social media?? And Tufekci paints that picture brilliantly: call centers, public meeting locations, banners, buttons, flyers, and print journalism. It took massive amounts of human effort and logistics.

Today, movements can be organized online in a matter of minutes. Social media and other tools can connect the peripheral directly to the center.  Actually, the author coined the term, “networked public” for this new reality. It is a beautiful concept to reflect on.  How I in South Florida, can connect, follow, and support any movement I care about, even if it is taking place in Eastern Africa!

It sort of underscores the original intent of social media, which in my opinion we have deviated from. It has always meant to connect us, but the ever ubiquitous posts, tweets, and subs these days, I think in a way takes us farther from ourselves. Anonymity begets freedom.

However, above all, this book gave me hope. When hearts and minds connect to improve societal woes, confront dictatorships, and ‘leads the leaderless’ as Tufekci says, it doesn’t get more  ß than that!  This book reminded me technology can be used in humanity not just for convenience, but to empower, unite, and inspire us.

The idea of  a decentralized collective is also ingenious. We don’t need to apply blanket ethics or practices across the globe. We can contextualize through social media so that movements are avenues of growth appropriate to their environment! Each of us contain this kaladeiscope of experience, and our planet should reflect that.

Final thoughts: this book can make an activist out of anyone. Tufekci’s vivid descriptions of well known protests like Tahir Square in Egypt are especially beautiful and the book does an excellent job connecting activist theories and digital techniques. Most importantly the reminds that there are much loftier goals to Twitter than accumulating followers.

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