Claims have been made that the recent revolts in the Middle East owe their success to new social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. That’s a mighty role to assign to such social media, but it seems to ignore the fact that most citizens in the places affected do not have access to the Internet or mobile phones. What they all have are mouths and actual physical contact that have much more power to pass messages than electronic media.
It’s probably true that the world got to know about the events as they unfolded much faster than if they had to rely on television, radio, and newspapers. It’s also likely that more personal accounts and images of events spread beyond the immediate events and faster than might have been possible using more traditional media. Certainly, lots of unbridled and unfiltered opinion can come across through the new social media, including from people who are professional journalists. They add a different dimension to reporting of events, but to put them at the core of social movements is too strong.
We do have a tendency to think that speed of transmission of information about events is somehow essential to shaping how events develop. But, think about it. If you tweet, or update your Facebook page, or make a YouTube video of a sports event do you think that this will drive its outcome? Expressions of opinions about players and plays may have some effect on those who can follow in real-time, but would they drive a team to change its personnel or how it plays? If you believe such expressions can make for change, then go ahead and try it during the coming weekend’s Super Bowl game.
I will admit that it feels different to have heard so many personal accounts from those who are agitating, but they too are selective. We also get to read about, hear, or see events that some would prefer to hide from public view. In the fullness of time, we will not be surprised to get similar reports (maybe not in real-time) from those who are trying to control or confront agitators. But, not everyone has the same interests in getting information out to the public, so we will remain accustomed to those who are trying to control being blockers, rather than spreaders, of information. They understand that getting online is now part of getting out of line.