Wednesday, January 12, 2011

This week in the Middle East

Tweeting about the Tunisian uprising; Iran, Russia, and the shady morals of Putin's tiger, and the price of presidents

Brian Whitaker, Wednesday 12 January 2011

"Tweetin' bout a revolution

I have spent a lot of time over the last few days following the Tunisian uprising on Twitter. With reporting on the ground severely curtailed by the authorities, with the western media slow to catch on to the significance of the events, and the Arab media – with a few rare exceptions such as al-Jazeera – nervously wondering what they can safely say, Twitter has become the first port of call for information.

Follow the hashtag #sidibouzid (after the town where the uprising started) and you'll find a jumbled collection of tweets in French, Arabic and English. At first it all looks very chaotic but, after a while, you start to recognise whose tweets are worth taking seriously and whose are not.
Where tweeters provide links, you can jump off to other places on the internet and often find confirmation of what they say: grainy videos of riots and demonstrations, and the dead and dying in hospitals. The Tunisian uprising may be under-reported, but it is not going unrecorded.

The discourse about Tunisia on Twitter is unlike any you would find in the mainstream Arab media where journalists, for the most part, are heavily constrained and constantly looking over their shoulders. It's free and uninhibited, much more like a private conversation among friends in some smoke-filled shisha cafe – except that it's happening on the internet and the whole world can listen in.

In a cafe conversation, of course, people say things off the top of their heads and mix fact with rumour and gossip. Normally, that wouldn't matter much, but because the Tunisia conversation has become such an important source of information – by default rather than design – here it matters rather a lot...... "

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