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Wall Street Journal: Social Media May Be Distraction During Riots

All the Twitter posting, texting and Facebook wall-posting is great for organizing and spreading a message, but it can als spread a message of delay.
30.08.11 | Interesting article at Wall Street Journal

The U.K. government recently backed down over its threat to control social media during times of civil disturbance. It turns out that that may be a very good thing, but not perhaps for the reasons you might think.

Navid Hassanpour, a political science graduate student at Yale, has looked at the decision by President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt to shut down the net and the mobile network, reports The New York Times.

According to Mr. Hassanpour the decision backfired, but not because of the international condemnation, rather social networks are actually not very good at organizing collective action.

To put it another way, all the Twitter posting, texting and Facebook wall-posting is great for organizing and spreading a message of protest, but it can also spread a message of caution, delay, confusion or, I don’t have time for all this politics, did you see what Lady Gaga is wearing?

It is a conclusion that counters the widely held belief that the social media helped spur the protests. Mr. Hassanpour used press accounts of outbreaks of unrest in Egypt to show that after Jan. 28, the protests became more spread around Cairo and the country. There were not necessarily more protesters, but the movement spread to more parts of the population.

“The disruption of cellphone coverage and Internet on the 28th exacerbated the unrest in at least three major ways,” he writes. “It implicated many apolitical citizens unaware of or uninterested in the unrest; it forced more face-to-face communication, i.e., more physical presence in streets; and finally it effectively decentralized the rebellion on the 28th through new hybrid communication tactics, producing a quagmire much harder to control and repress than one massive gathering in Tahrir.”