How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Twitter

    That kind of self-induced pressure can wear a girl down, and so for years I hated Twitter, the service that’s been suggested as a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and credited with everything from aiding the Green Revolution to rescuing an injured woman lost in the woods. I’m no social media Luddite, but I didn’t see a program that toppled regimes. I saw lots of people who love Justin Bieber too much.
    Thankfully, I had Malcolm Gladwell on my side, in the guise of his much-discussed article “Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted.” Gladwell argues that activism of the revolution-rabbling, Arab Spring kind — in other words, real change —  is high-risk and depends on networks of strong ties  (your real friends). Sure, your Twitter followers will keep an eye out for your stolen iPhone, but they won’t be flanking you in front of a police squad.

    Initially, this seemed about right. But after spending a summer in Beijing, a few conversations with my language tutor made me realize that in other countries, Twitter-like services are more than their current trending topic (which, are, last time I checked, Latin Girl in Brazil and Demi Made Us Strong.)

    Since Twitter is accessible only by proxy in China, there’s Weibo, which, my tutor said, is the real news source. In a country where the media is state-controlled and a woman was arrested for tweeting “Change, angry youth!,” eyewitnesses use Weibo to spread the word about everything that won’t be covered in the mainstream media. When Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Prize against the wishes of the Chinese government, all variations of his name were blocked by the censors. The Chinese turned to Twitter. In the U.S., citizens mostly leave the reporting to the papers, but in China, Twitter-like services help take the place of our free press.

    Back in America, the service has been used to inaugurate a new kind of cyberactivism. Last year, feminist Sady Doyle launched a Twitter protest in response to director  Michael Moore’s comments blaming the rape victim in the case of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s extradition. Doyle and her followers bombarded Moore with tweets, calling for him to retract his statement. She was harassed, her personal information made public and even stalked — but Moore listened, and he responded.
     
    Digital evangelists heralding Twitter as a dictator-killer aren’t all correct, but neither are the people (read: myself) who hate Twitter mostly because they’re not so great at using it. Gladwell may be right that Twitter didn’t directly drive protesters to the streets of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, but as a new mode of communication, it could create a domino effect that may, eventually, turn to the real change he is so skeptical of seeing.

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