As the days in January passed into February, the world watched and participated as the political future of Egypt began to shape up into something tangible. But broadcasted news stories and New York Times articles were not the only source of information seeping into our knowledge. Twitter, the online social media website became a large part of the way news regarding Egypt was mediated. It was the tool for the masses. With an unprecedented ability for interactivity, for discussion, for real time evidence that things were happening, Twitter caters to the needs and wants of news producers and consumers all across the globe. But Twitter wasn’t at the center of a “social media revolution” like it was touted to be in the 2009 Iranian elections where information was coming from the cell phones of protesters in Tehran. Egypt was simply not the right environment where that kind of social media power can take place internally. With more than 40% of the population under the poverty level, few Egyptians could afford handsets, much less a smart phone with the ability to log onto Twitter from any given location. The role that Twitter played in Egypt’s case was to make the world a participating watchdog and made the American community a participatory member of Egyptian politics.
On January 27th, the Egyptian government (of the time) shut down the country’s Internet service in an attempt to block sites such as Facebook or Twitter from aiding participants of the protests to organize themselves. Suddenly, the voice of the participants seemed to have been shut off in real time. But, if one looked on Twitter during that time, the number of crisis related tweets were still skyrocketing high. It wasn’t the protestors who were using the technology to aid in their protest, it was prominent reporters and news agencies that were using Twitter as a forum for information
Legitimate news sources such as Al Jazeera and Andy Carvin of NPR became prominent “tweeters” of the revolution. Amidst the chaos and unrest, these journalists disposed of their traditional news sources in favor of the new narrative in order to maximize the transparency and the transcendental qualities of news. Al Jazeera (one of the main journals covering the crisis) received such a reaction from the American community on both its Twitter page and its online live streaming that the next logical strategic move was for them to create a #demandaljazeera hashtag on Twitter to further promote their reputation. In breaking news events such as the Egyptian Revolution, reporters have found a friend in social networking. When the news consumers’ appetite for information has become insatiable due to a constant access of information, the news reporter has to be able to keep up. Andy Carvin of NPR averaged over 400 tweets per day on his Twitter page during the Egyptian crisis. He says that in today’s society, “curation is a serious form of narrative—one that we’re just beginning to recognize. I’m still not sure if it’s more art than journalism (or social responsibility for that matter), but I’ve discovered that it’s a medium that I’m at home in. And if I can help inform people in the process, so much the better.”……………
So this is basically what I have written so far. I write the above to put my primary study in a solid framework. From here, I want to inform the reader a little bit more about the nature of twitter during the Egyptian revolution, especially from the reporters’ point of view. Then I want to dive into my survey results that was placed on surveymonkey.com. I basically asked all my friends on facebook as well as several of my parents friends (to get some older perspective) 10 questions about their following of the news, the Egypt story as well as their use of Twitter. My final question is a free response one in which I ask the survey taker if they trust the validity of news on Twitter. I have basically found that the majority of our age group is very distrustful of Twitter as a medium for legitimate news while adults seem to see Twitter as a valid and useful tool. This is the opposite of the results I was expecting to get since people of my generation are so much more acquainted and comfortable with new technologies such as Twitter. I wonder if it’s because our average consumption of entertainment is also held on these social network sites and if that consumption of entertainment on the same platform taints our perception of the importance (in the political realm) of these technologies. For example, our generation follows movie stars, musicians, gossip blogs and our friends while our parents go on Twitter to follow The New York Times or NPR and the like. Of course, this is not to generalize, but from my pool of results, this seems to be the general attitude I get and I can only speak for my primary study, not for the collective whole. I think I will also try to conclude a point about whether or not Twitter is actually as important of a news medium during breaking news times as some people make it out to be. The fact that the majority of my survey takers distrusted news on Twitter doesn’t necessarily have to do with their age or preferred ways of using Twitter. Their distrust is maybe indicative that not as many people are finding Twitter to be actually effective. Maybe this whole Twitter helping to save the world thing is just another media propagated story that tries to dramatize something scary (albeit important) into something more consumable.