About Face

In contrast to the previous post holding a cybersceptical position regarding the use of social media in the ‘Arab Spring’ or any other uprising of recent years, a group of people – Gilad Lotan, Erhardt Graeff, Mike Ananny, Devin Gaffney, Ian Pearce and Danah Boyd – have done an excellent academic job of analysing the Tweets relating to Tunisia and Egypt during early 2011. The results, the data and more, appear on Danah Boyd’s web site, along with a copy of the paper they authored for the International Journal of Communications 5 (2011) Feature 1375-1405 – The Revolutions Were Tweeted: Information Flows During the 2011 Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions.

The main argument here is that there is no argument. Lotan et al (2011) are not arguing that social media are used by revolutionaries to create uprisings, nor that social media affect the outcomes, only that some developments are occurring in the world of journalism as a result of the public, journalists and activists employing social media. For example, on page 1378 they state that “This paper is one step in understanding how mainstream news organizations relate to, rely upon, and distinguish themselves from “non-professionals” within the context of Twitter information flows during fast-breaking newsworthy events”. Thus this report is not a criticism of Gladwell, who stated “the revolution will not be tweeted”, it is a matter of reportage of revolution rather than seeing social media as an important tool of revolutionaries, as a number of commentators have. In fact Lotan et al (2011) develop from other academics that people are more influenced by ‘opinion leaders’, although I imagine it is possible for some of these to be social media users.

What this also makes me aware of, is the growing interest in the analysis of social media for research purposes, and there’s even some courses coming up at the Manchester University Cathie Marsh Centre for Survey Research (CCSR) under the ESRC funded Project CODE – ( http://drupals.humanities.manchester.ac.uk/ipol/?q=node/10 ) for information.

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