Saturday, November 19, 2011

Twitter and Tahrir

Today, protests broke out in Tahrir square and led to a level of violence that many are calling the most intense since January.

I live about two miles away, and I’ve been watching the events on television, on Twitter, and through various publications. Twitter, as is well advertised and well known, is the best way to get instant information, but it is also deeply uncomfortable to actually get information as it happens.

I had never used Twitter in the U.S., except as a promotional tool for my band. I associated it primarily with silly, somewhat trivial attempts to bestow a bit of celebrity on everyone. Whenever I would imitate its contents, I would be sure to raise my voice to a squeal and jeer "OMG, I've baked a chocolate cake!."

When numerous articles appeared in the U.S. press about the role of Twitter in the January uprisings, I usually skipped over them. I chalked them up to a preoccupation with hip, easy answers, over a real analysis of what led to the revolution. Twitter feels particularly remote when you see how campaign materials for candidates feature symbols, one for each candidate, including a mango, a tank, a palm tree, and a motorcycle, in order to reach illiterate voters.

Today, however, I looked on and read the short bursts of writing with an obsessive concentration. Twitter throws at you in a constant mix of the simple and documentary (“Man parading police cuffs and shouting allahu akbar”), the cynical (“Egyptians talk about varieties of tear gas like Californians talk about wine”), the analytical and the predictive (“Needless to say, the Egyptian elections are in serious peril right now.”).

Then there’s the bemused (“Every few mins, a bunch of ppl start jetting in one direction and everyone panics and follows. Then ppl calm down and have a good laugh.”), the slightly self-important (“Molotov rocks glass you name it and I'm in the middle of it”), and finally the practical (“Just saw 6 CSF [Central Security Forces] trucks driving thru side streets by Sayyida Zeinab metro heading 2 #Tahrir. Be careful”).

But often in a single sentence you find a mixture of the banal, the silly, and the horrifying that shirks away adjectives and crosses your emotional wires. Throughout the evening, posts reported that several well-known activists and bloggers had lost an eye in the gunfire.

It is difficult to convey emotions through text on the Internet, but people found personal methods. “Malek lost his eye…my friend. Why?” posted a popular blogger who goes by the name The Big Pharaoh. Another blogger, Sandmonkey who is now running for President under his real name, Mahmoud Salem, registered shock through capitalizing letters (which can be done in English, but not in Arabic): “What? Malek LOST HIS EYE?”

Nagla Rik tweeted “Painful beyond words” in response to Amr Gharbeia, who wrote “In transit to hospital with my long time friend and comrade Malek. He lost his right eye today in #Tahrir.”

Some responded with corrections to other misinformed Twitter users: “Malek Mustafa lost his right eye, Not the left one :(”

I winced when I saw a sad face emoticon in response to someone losing an eye, but then I saw this message:

“Omg. Graphic> VIDEO: Egyptian activist Malek Moustafa loses his right eye from CSF rubber bullets”

The author, Hadear Kandil, has a simple, one line biography above her tweets: “I exist in real life too.”

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Maurice, and please be careful.
    I, too, thought of "tweeting" as something as frivolous as it sounds...but clearly I was judging content according to the name of the form. Analysis doesn't come in short bursts but news does. love, v