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Matt Yglesias is a little too pithy in his dismissal of the power of Twitter in support of social and political revolutionary activity. Certainly this case has been overstated by many, but Ygelsias’ argument – essentially "the internet makes everything easier" + "one only has so much time in a day" + "there were revolutions before Twitter" proves both too much and too little at once.

From where I stand the Twitter question is twofold:

  • Does Twitter’s ability to share information spread revolutionary ideas in a way faster or more resiliant than before Twitter existed?
  • Is Twitter provide a logistical advantage to revolutionaries once actual action has begun?

My answer to the first question is "unclear, at best." The internet can certainly be a tool for the spreading of information and ideas, but is also a tool for spreading disinformation, polarization, and nonsense. Further study required, etc.

But the second question to me seems to be a resounding "yes." Twitter is, if nothing else, an extremely effective real-time mass communication and organization tool. In years past, this is something that state actors have often had access to in forms of well-established heirarchical organizations equipped with radio technology, whereas revolutionaries and protestors had no such thing. But the vastly reduced cost of vastly improved technology means protestors now have all this cool stuff, and in both North Africa and on Wall Street are using it to great effect to spread important logistical information and organize action. Whether Hosni Mubarak would still be in power if there was no Twitter is an interesting counterfactual, but it seems silly to deny the very obvious fact that Twitter has proven useful to the Egyptians who tossed him.

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