The Revolution Will Be Tweeted

Gil Scott-Heron

(Updated: May 27, 2011. Gil Scott Heron passed away today from an illness he picked up while traveling Europe. He was 62.)

When Gil Scott-Heron wrote his oft quoted composition, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” (first appearing in public in 1970), I don’t think anyone really understood the political ramifications that would result from it. An American poet, author and songwriter, Scott-Heron is generally credited by modern hip hop artists as a major influence. The song itself is considered one of the top political songs of all time.

At the time Scott-Heron wrote the song, television had begun to exert an influence in politics. Some suggest that John Kennedy may have defeated Richard Nixon in the televised debates because he was far more telegenic than Nixon. And, of course, the war in Vietnam was being broadcast almost in real time. The televised war gave Americans a real taste of what their government was doing in foreign nations and the true cost of that effort. Technology, for better or worse, was changing the face of politics.

Revolution: There's an App for that.

It is not unlike what is going on in Egypt today. Same idea, different technology.

In many ways, the Internet has fundamentally changed everything. Who needs a travel agency anymore? Print media may soon be extinct. The music industry was finally dismantled. Copyright laws will need to be revisited. My branch of the campus Post Office closed last month after several decades of operation because the Internet is cutting into their profit margin. Privacy is all but dead.

There are good things about the Internet, to be sure. Shopping got easier. Research definitely got easier. I mean, my generation actually had to go look up stuff in a big building full of dusty books. We had to remember things as well. But now, if I hit a deer with my car in the mid-afternoon, I can Google on my Droid how to dress the carcass, find a recipe for venison stew, and have the insurance agency fixing my car, all in time to catch the evening news.

Social networking is an interesting by-product of the age of the Internet. I confess I just rented The Social Network from a Redbox the other night. Aside from the takeaway that Zuckerberg and his Ivy League pals are douchebags, it struck me how ubiquitous the whole phenomenon is. And how quickly it happened. It’s like the world became a hive mind overnight.

Another confession: I try to stay out of Facebook. I get tired of people I haven’t had contact with in years wasting my time with frivolous pursuits. I honestly do not even want to know what Farmville is. And Monotreme, one of the other authors on this blog, just hooked me in to Twitter. I have issues with living in a world of 140 characters or fewer, but it is interesting to drop in on real-time conversations about what is going on in the world with people I find compelling. Plus we get blog traffic from it.

On to what’s happening in the Middle East. First, they’ve had thirty years of what is essentially martial law. Mubarak never relaxed the “state of emergency,” so while Egypt’s leadership has been the least dictatorial of any country in the region, it remains a teensy bit totalitarian. Combine that with a lagging world economy and a new way to communicate with virtually everyone, and you have an army ready to mobilize in an instant.

And I would argue that a certain Western charismatic leader with an oratorical gift might have had a little to do with it. Recall the speech that President Obama gave in Cairo last year. I suspect he inspires people outside of the United States as much as those in his domestic constituency.

Iran was first to try peaceful revolt, but without broad-scale success. Then Tunisia managed to pull off their coup without much bloodshed. Now Egypt. Who will be next? All because citizen communication has been made so much easier. Social networking is participative democracy in action. And that’s one genie that can never be returned to the bottle.

Che Tweet

¡Viva el Twitter!

Wikileaks is another by-product of the new information age. Governments will only be able to keep secrets with ever increasing difficulty. They will no longer be able to create illusions under false pretense. Transparency is the new fashion trend.

What does this mean for Egypt and the Middle East? Well there are already signs of other dominoes ready to fall. Yemen and Jordan are already taking pre-emptive measures. The military has taken control of Egypt and put the Constitution on notice for a re-write. The danger here is a military dictatorship evolving in the power vacuum vacated by Mubarak. The other danger is anti-American/Israeli factions seizing control.

But if we’re right in that democracy is the best means of governance, we just may see the social revolution bear some really sweet fruit. I think we should do everything possible to cultivate that and not stand in the way of letting it happen. The rest of the dominoes may fall in right behind it. Egypt and Iran’s first response was to shut down communications but they didn’t realize how big the network had become. They drove television reporters out of the revolt, sometimes imprisoning them. But they could not stop the signal. They could not hold back the people. The revolution may not be televised, but it looks like it will be Tweeted. ¡Viva el Twitter!

Editor’s note: This article was written on February 11 and 12. Since that time, protests have erupted in Iran, where the military is far less sympathetic with the public than Egypt. Also the Palestinian parliament has resigned. This could be a real wildfire.

About Mr. Universe

Mr. Universe is a musician/songwriter and an ex-patriot of the south. He currently lives and teaches at a University in the Pacific Northwest. He is a long distance hiker who has hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. He is also an author and woodworker. An outspoken political voice, he takes a decidedly liberal stance in politics.
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12 Responses to The Revolution Will Be Tweeted

  1. JC2 says:

    Mr. U,

    I enjoyed the entire article but your last paragraph says it best. Let us hope the Middle East continues the free-fall towards democracy and self-rule, free of tyranny!


  2. shortchain says:

    I think the lesson we could take from the events of the last several years is that whatever technology will facilitate the revolutions of the future are still a mystery to the rulers of the countries in question — but that they won’t be to the next generation of autocrats.

    In Egypt — and correct me if I’ve got this in error — first the government let al Jazeera report, then tried to shut them down. After that, Facebook was used to organize the protests, and, when the government shut down Facebook, the protesters moved to Twitter.

    So what happened was a classic snowball effect. It was obvious watching the process that the Mubarak faction was simply so out of touch that they could not react in time as the process unfolded.

    Which is a puzzle. What was happening wasn’t exactly being carried on in secret. Did Mubarak’s advisers simply not see it?

    One of the things that is bugging me about the current coverage of the situation is the statement that, as a result of what happened, “things will never be the same”.

    To which I ask: “why not?” What’s to stop the Egyptian government from basically running a slate of people who are younger copies of Mubarak, maybe even pretending that there’s actually going to be a “choice”? They haven’t lifted the “state of emergency” — and, even if they do, what’s to stop them from reinstating it?

    If, several months from now, a new president of Egypt is elected, say someone with a military background, who then goes on to run Egypt for a few decades — tell me true, how is that significantly different from the historical norm? And why should it be?

    I’m willing to bet a lot that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have plans on hair-trigger to take down Facebook, Twitter, and also have infiltrated and are ready to turn protests into melees to give themselves cause to use violence. I don’t know about Bahrain’s government, and Yemen’s power structure is complicated by tribal loyalties and feuds, and a lack of technology makes it unlike those to the north and east.

    If I were an Iranian anti-government activist, I’d be looking hard at peer-to-peer methodologies in networking.

  3. Jean says:

    Not only was the revolution tweeted, it was pre-announced.

    According to a NYT article from yesterday, “After the Tunisian revolution on Jan. 14, the April 6 Youth Movement saw an opportunity to turn its little-noticed annual protest on Police Day — the Jan. 25 holiday that celebrates a police revolt that was suppressed by the British — into a much bigger event. Mr. Ghonim used the Facebook site to mobilize support. If at least 50,000 people committed to turn out that day, the site suggested, the protest could be held. More than 100,000 signed up.

    “I have never seen a revolution that was preannounced before,” Mr. Ghonim said.

    And as the NYT further notes, “They fused their secular expertise in social networks with a discipline culled from religious movements and combined the energy of soccer fans with the sophistication of surgeons. Breaking free from older veterans of the Arab political opposition, they relied on tactics of nonviolent resistance channeled from an American scholar through a Serbian youth brigade — but also on marketing tactics borrowed from Silicon Valley.”

  4. Justsayin' says:

    The young people in the middle east finally have a say in their future. These technologies have certainly played a part. What I find interesting in our own backyard is our own youth are now watching some of their rights start to be assaulted. Contraception and Abortion rights are now getting dinged by local legislatures acrosss the country and now congress feels the time is right to take a stab at it on a national level. While middle eastern countries are tired of being told what to do with their own lives, we here who are so proud of our democracies have our own taliban ,political and corporate thieves.

  5. Mr. Universe says:

    Just sayin’

    Agreed. Republicans took the House promising to take the economy head on. All that I’ve seen them do is attack social issues. Health care, redefining statutory rape, etc. Sure they keep saying ‘cut spending, cut spending!’. But every time someone calls for a cut that directly affects their district they vehemently object. Generally every cut they agree on are social projects or dumb stuff like cutting PBS.

    Republicans do not have the interests of the public in mind. They seem to have more interest in robbing them blind. Wish we could have a Twitter revolution of our own.

  6. Mainer says:

    If we have an uprising here that is text message tweet based it will be the young doing it because if they wait for some one my age to send the call to arms on his blackberry the revolution could well be over before the message ever gets typed. It will get ever harder for a gov to shut down the electronic comms of the protesters with out shutting down their own communications as well.

  7. Justsayin' says:

    It’s funny how the tea party was just that, a revolution of sorts, they were really angry about the way this country was going. But what is sad is that they were attacking the wrong elements. The truth is, its not really the amount of tax that your paying but how it is doled out. They had a problem with their tax money paying for the “undeserving”. They were ok with it financing the military machine and various wars and such. It’s too bad that most of them were so ill informed and uneducated and are just beginning to realize that the GOP was just playing them. If the tea party lasts another two years they will have branched off from the GOP and formed a third party. But they just might fade into oblivion as well, as most educated young people want absolutely nothing to do with their agenda.

  8. shortchain says:


    Personally, I’ve got to express approval for the group of GOP tea-partiers who voted against the execrable extension of the “Patriot Act”. Of course, that group didn’t include Michele Bachmann, Mike Pence, etc, or any of the other “lights of the teapers” except Ron Paul.

  9. Mainer says:

    I found this earlier today and I think it pretty much wraps up where the conservative movement is headed, I have a copy I transfered to Word just in case as it is now pretty hard to find. It is almost as if Fox had a moment of pique and let the truth blurt out.

    I feel bad for actual conservatives and I really feel sorry for Libertarians even if I don’t agree with them much. One should also check out the slams that Mitch Daniels is taking. If it isn’t social conservative and ready to hand what is left of the economy over to the big money it is going no where. I doubt even Mitt can double speak his way through this mine field.

  10. mclever says:

    They shut down Facebook. They shut down the Internet. They shut down Twitter. They shut down the cellphone network…

    Once a sincere revolutionary message starts, the signal can’t be stopped. It goes everywhere.

    You can’t stop the signal!

  11. Pingback: The Revolution Will Be Tweeted…In Wisconsin? | 538 Refugees

  12. Pingback: The Revolution Can No Longer Be Televised | 538 Refugees

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