A tumultuous time in Egypt the last couple of weeks, and in Tunisia before that, proved just how effective social media can be in conveying a mood, and reporting what’s happening at ground level. The democracy of Twitter means that anyone involved (or not) in the happenings in Egypt could tweet (until the authorities closed down the internet – in itself scary, but nothing that couldn’t be got round, with some clever technology). Too often do we have the sensationalist traditional media reporting, and it’s not easy to discern whether what is happening is actually alarming or if it’s the norm spun to back up the story that they want to report.
At one point people were describing how hectic and disorganised Cairo airport was – having been there a couple of years ago, I think that mayhem describes the airport on a normal day. So when tourists stepped off the plane and spoke to the TV crews, it was difficult to discern whether this was actually an indication of upheaval or sensationalist reporting to beef up the peaceful protesting story. Despite a regime that wanted to blackout the rest of the world’s media and keep what was happening under the radar, Twitter allowed people to tell the world what was happening. Incredibly, when the Egyptian government blacked out the web, Google engineers built a system to allow protesters to send voice tweets over the phone – bypassing the internet that had been shut down. Amazingly, it only took only a few days – talk about necessity being the mother of invention! As Twitter nears its fifth birthday and has 190 million people using it, sending out 65 million messages a day, you can dismiss it as a frivolous tool to tell the world about your mundane actions or opinions. However, you can’t deny that it is carving a space for itself as a tool to report what will become important history. Vive la revolution!