“Twitter and Tear Gas” Chapter 1 Reflection

In the first chapter of the book “Twitter and Tear Gas,” author Zeynep Tufekci writes about how the digital revolution has changed our sense of community. She starts the chapter with a story of her grandmother, who, born in Turkey, who was exposed to a shift in community when she won a scholarship to a prestigious school for gifted girls. She had been pulled from school by her parents when she was 10 because her parents had decided she had received enough schooling, but with her attendance at the Istanbul boarding school, she was witness to an entirely new world.

This, Tufekci argues, happens as communication technology advances. A standardized, national language and access to communication – something Tufekci says we take for granted in nations with a democratic style of government – is created when our methods of communication expand to have the ability to reach greater, more populous networks outside of our immediate family and friends. Newspapers had this ability, as did the invention of the telephone, radio and television, but only to a limited population of people each time. With the rise of Facebook and Twitter as social media networks that are open to anyone and can be used with a connection to the Internet, our notions of what a community is has become more imaginary and can involve a large number of traits, like political affiliation or the attendance at the same school.

Tufekci turns to the Arab Spring protests in January 2011 as an example of how social media like Facebook and Twitter allow for changes in how social media has changed our idea of a community and bring freedom for people who are otherwise being restricted in their speech and their actions by an authoritarian regime. In creating a public sphere in the digital realm, the information about the protest, later named Arab Spring, was spread to an audience much larger and more diverse than the organizer’s own Facebook friends list. As a result, thousands of people showed up, eventually toppling the government. The prevalence of social media is a phenomenon the authoritarian government cannot tighten their grip on either, since a large number of the population uses it not for political action, but rather for contact with their loved ones who may not live within the country. For those who do use the social media sites as a vehicle for political mobilization, it gives people the ability to speak more freely online than they can in their physical communities. Pairing that with the potential for an increased audience, communication has once again transformed to bring people closer regardless of their physical location.

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