Thursday, September 30, 2010

In the much-discussed New Yorker piece on digital activism, Malcolm Gladwell writes this, among other things:

[...] As for Moldova’s so-called Twitter Revolution, Evgeny Morozov, a scholar at Stanford who has been the most persistent of digital evangelism’s critics, points out that Twitter had scant internal significance in Moldova, a country where very few Twitter accounts exist. [...]

Yet, here's what Evgeny Morozov was writing at the time of the Moldova riots, in April 2009, on his Foreign Policy's Net.Effect blog (the post - titled "Moldova's Twitter Revolution" - has since been "archived," and, strangely and quite annoyingly, one is required to register to be able to read it, and this is why I'm quoting from my own GV post):

[...] Will we remember the events that are now unfolding in Chisinau not by the color of the flags but by the social-networking technology used?

If you asked me about the prospects of a Twitter-driven revolution in a low-tech country like Moldova a week ago, my answer would probably be a qualified "no". Today, however, I am no longer as certain. If you bothered to check the most popular discussions on Twitter in the last 48 hours, you may have stumbled upon a weird threat of posts marked with a tag "#pman" (it's currently listed in Twitter's "Trending Topics" along with "Apple Store", Eminem, and Easter).

No, "pman" is not short for "pacman"; it stands for "Piata Marii Adunari Nationale", which is Romanian name for the biggest square in Chisinau, Moldova's capital. [...]


Ever since yesterday's announcement that Moldova's communists have won enough votes to form a government in Sunday's elections, Moldova's progressive youth took to the streets in angry protests. As behooves any political protest by young people today, they also turned to Facebook and Twitter to raise awareness about the planned protests and flashmobs. [...]


The related posts on Twitter are being posted at a record-breaking rate - I've been watching the Twitter stream for the last 20 minutes - and I see almost 200 new Twitter messages marked with "pman" (virtually all of them in Romanian, with only one or two in English). In the last few hours there have also emerged several "smart" aggregators of posts on the subject, like this one - they have to contextualize what exactly is happening -- and this one for YouTube videos. Many blog posts are also being updated in real-time - minute by minute - check this one. There are also a plenty of videos on YouTube and photos, including those uploaded to Facebook. [...]

Later, however, Morozov revised his position (again, the quote is from another of my April 2009 GV posts):

[...] 3. It really helped that even non-technology people in the U.S. and much of Western Europe are currently head over heels in love with Twitter. It's really good that the Moldovan students didn't organize this revolution via Friendster or LiveJournal (which is still a platform for choice for many users in Eastern Europe). If they did, they would never have gotten as much attention from the rest of the world. [...]


Honestly, I find this fixation on the "tools" a bit frustrating. "The rest of the world" seems to be more concerned with whether it was correct to call the events in Moldova a "Twitter Revolution" or not; what actually happened on the ground at the time of the riots and later seems to be of minor interest.

I wouldn't blame "the rest of the world" for it too much, though: after all, the mess we are capable of producing it often too difficult to follow, too irrational, and too "local."

For the same reason, it's our own fault, too, that "the rest of the world" chose to focus on Yulia Tymoshenko's braid, legs and ass after Maidan was over: we just don't make sense otherwise. Even to ourselves.

As for Iran, which is also mentioned in Gladwell's piece, Michael Jackson's untimely death contributed to the thinning of the "rest of the world" crowd in summer 2009 as much as anything else.

"The Orphans' Revolution" seems to be a much better term for what happened in Moldova in April 2009. Here's what Dumitru Minzarari wrote back then:

[...] Their protests were labeled the «Orphans’ Revolution» because under the Communist government close to a third of Moldovan citizens (their parents) went abroad to earn money for a living.

That is another face of Moldovan protests, where kids got into streets because their parents betrayed them and their European dream proved to be a fake, because “EUROPE DOES NOT NEED MOLDOVA”. [...]

And, Twitter or not, the "orphans" are still there, unfortunately.


  1. "Before one of the major Iranian protests of the past year, a journalist in Germany showed me a list of three prominent Twitter accounts that were commenting on the events in Tehran and asked me if I knew the identities of the contributors. I told her I did, but she seemed disappointed when I told her that one of them was in the United States, one was in Turkey, and the third -- who specialized in urging people to "take to the streets" -- was based in Switzerland."

  2. Great post. The same is true of almost all discussion of technology in the media. Do you think that fixation on the tools rather than the task actually diminished the support offered by the public outside ukraine by distracting attention from what was actually happening?

  3. This is a beautiful post. Twitter changes the face of communication and much more. But does it change the problems like poverty, lack of education, lack of medical facilities etc? No. It does not because the people who used Twitter are not interested. If they are interested, Twitter can change a lot.

    This is Nancy from Israeli Uncensored News