Activists and political opponents worry about Twitter’s possible demise

In recent years, the application has often become a sounding board for popular uprisings. The blurring of Twitter’s future raises fears of a future lack of information on these movements.

From the Arab Spring to the protests in Iran, through the movements of #Metoo or #Blacklivesmatter, Twitter has established itself as an important global platform for activists and political opponents, who risk losing an important mobilization tool if the network the blue bird has just disappeared. .

Other platforms exist, but Twitter “is clearly very influential in allowing the media and leaders to pay attention to what is happening in the world. In that sense, it is a unique and very special platform”, said AFP Mahsa Alimardani, researcher for the freedom of expression organization Article 19.

A sounding board

In Iran today, this is, according to him, “the only real access to voices and events, in the absence of foreign correspondents and independent journalists who can report on what is happening”.

In recent days, it was still – among others – through Twitter that the images of a demonstration in China, at the largest iPhone factory in the world, were broadcast.

And in the past, the social network served as a sounding board and relay of global mobilization for many popular uprisings: Arab Spring, pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, civil war in Syria, protests in Iran, etc., which often which gives a look at the raw reality of the repressions implemented by the authoritarian regimes of the planet.

“Twitter keeps records of so many different movements and events. So many activists have turned to Twitter over the years. Losing all those records is a huge loss, because it a trace for history”, worries Mahsa Alimardani.

Pay attention to the causes

A kind of global public square where true and false information, testimonials, and other stories of greater or lesser importance are shared openly, Twitter has approximately 237 million daily users at the end of June, which is less than Facebook (1, 98 billion) , TikTok (more than one billion) or Snapchat (363 million).

The social network, whose messages cannot exceed 140 characters, has nevertheless become an important place for many media, companies and celebrities who are sometimes content with this single channel to communicate.

It has also been widely used by activists and political opponents around the world to draw national and international attention to various causes. Twitter has notably played an important role in promoting social phenomena such as #Metoo, to denounce sexual violence, or #Blacklivesmatter, to denounce police violence against African-Americans in the United States.

“The functions of Twitter make it possible to give an identity to protest movements, to create a common feeling by sharing memes, hashtags. And this identity can go beyond borders, to spread very quickly in foreign media and attract international attention, which is something that bothers oppressive leaders,” Marcus Michaelsen, an independent researcher specializing in online activism and surveillance, told AFP.

In addition, activists can easily reach “journalists or political leaders, more directly than other networks like Instagram for example”, added Marcus Michaelsen.

A deeply destabilized network

In Egypt, during the Arab Spring in early 2011, “Twitter was mainly used by educated Egyptians, who did not represent the majority of people who were on the streets and made the revolution a reality”, underlined with AFP Nadia Idle, British-Egyptian activists were present at the Tahrir Square dispute, the center of the revolution that led to the fall of President Hosni Mubarak.

“But that doesn’t mean Twitter isn’t important,” said the activist, who also co-authored the 2011 book “Tweets from Tahrir”.

“Twitter sets itself up as a place to report events. (…) Many tweeters consider themselves ‘citizen journalists’ and make it their mission to report the facts with generally accurate pieces of information and a stream of videos and images,” write Nadia Idle and her co-author Alex Nunns in the foreword to this book.

Since its takeover by the eccentric billionaire Elon Musk, the blue bird network has however been severely destabilized and even threatened with extinction, much to the chagrin of many users who have sometimes taken years to build an audience.

“It’s hard to describe the value that Twitter has gained in the last ten years. (…) It goes without saying that as Elon Musk leads Twitter to its own destruction, the only people who will rejoice are the worst dictatorships and war criminals of the world. For the first time in fifteen years, they will be safe from the most powerful real-time global surveillance tool in the world”, tweeted last week Charles Lister, researcher at the center of reflection Middle East Institute, in Washington.

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