For political activists, Twitter packs a vital punch | Tech News

For political activists, Twitter packs a vital punch

From the Arab Spring uprisings to the MeToo movement, Twitter has proven itself a formidable ally for political activists and opposition groups.

| Updated on: Nov 25 2022, 19:59 IST
Elon Musk Twitter Bankruptcy Talk: Timeline
1/13 He’s told employees to brace themselves for long hours, that “the road ahead is arduous and will require intense work to succeed,” and said bankruptcy was possible. Here’s how the saga is unfolding: (Bloomberg)
2/13 Oct. 27: Musk takes control- His first act is to fire the Board along with CEO Parag Agrawal, CFO Ned Segal, head of legal Vijaya Gadde and Counsel Sean Edgett. Musk forms advisory team that includes celebrity attorney Alex Spiro, VC David Sacks, Neuralink CEO and head of Musk’s family office Jared Birchall, investor Jason Calacanis, and partner of Andreessen Horowitz Sriram Krishnan. (Reuters)
3/13 Oct. 28: Brands begin to take pause- As Musk plans to unban accounts and says he will charge for user verification, advertisers suspend ads. (AFP)
4/13 Oct. 31: Top tweeters protest- Amid murmurings of plans to charge existing verified accounts, author Steven King tweets, “$20 a month to keep my blue check? F**k that, they should pay me. If that gets instituted, I’m gone like Enron.” (AFP)
5/13 Nov. 1: Teams working around the clock- The product team works over the weekend on Musk’s idea to charge users for blue check marks. A photo of product director Esther Crawford sleeping on the floor of a conference room, trying to make the deadline, goes viral. Meanwhile, managers are asked to make lists of who can be fired. Employees print out their software code for review by Musk and engineers from Tesla, to determine if their contributions are worthy of keeping a job. (REUTERS)
6/13 Nov. 3: Massive layoffs begin- A memo is sent to all employees telling them of imminent layoffs and to watch for an email with the subject line: “Your Role at Twitter.” Badge access to offices is suspended as 3,700 staffers receive word that they’ve been cut. Realizing employees essential for the continuity of the business have been let go by mistake, some are asked to come back. (AP)
7/13 Co-founder EV Williams tweets, “Heart’s out to the tweeps getting laid off today.” Co-founder Jack Dorsey adds, “I realize many are angry with me. I own the responsibility for why everyone is in this situation: I grew the company size too quickly. I apologize for that.” (REUTERS)
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8/13 Nov. 5-6: Musk responds to celebrity protests- Unrest grows on the platform over the weekend, particularly over the issue of impersonator accounts. Actress Valerie Bertinelli starts a movement of people changing their Twitter names to “Elon Musk.” Comedian Kathy Griffin joins the protest, finds her account locked. Then Musk announces, “Going forward, any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying `parody’ will be permanently suspended.” (AP)
9/13 Nov. 8: Musk sells more Tesla- Despite a previous vow not to sell any more Tesla stock, Musk sells an additional $3.95 billion, bringing the total sold in past year to $36 billion. (REUTERS)
10/13 Nov. 9: Musk Blue tick mark- Blue check mark option becomes available for purchase, and immediately becomes a tool for impersonators. An account masquerading as Nintendo Inc. posts an image of Super Mario holding up a middle finger. (REUTERS)
11/13 Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, and a close cadre of advisers are considering a host of changes to the way Twitter is run and makes money. (REUTERS)
12/13 Nov. 10: More key executives quit as Musk warns of bankruptcy- In his first meeting with employees, Musk tells them to brace for 80-hour weeks and requires everyone back in the office full time. He also says bankruptcy for the company is not out of the question if it doesn’t start generating more cash. Several executives in charge of keeping Twitter safe and accountable to its users quit, including chief information security officer Lea Kissner, chief privacy officer Damien Kieran and chief compliance Marianne Fogarty.. (AFP)
13/13 Nov. 11: Verified accounts get “Official” tags- Twitter adds badges that say “offiical” to verified accounts in some places, though confusion abounds. More brands depart the platform. (REUTERS)
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Twitter packs a vital punch for political activists. (AP)

From the Arab Spring uprisings to the MeToo movement in which women spoke up about sexual assaults, Twitter has proven itself a formidable ally for political activists and opposition groups, one whose reach and impact would be difficult to replace.

Other social media platforms may have more users, but the network now owned by the billionaire Elon Musk dominates the global conversation -- even as Twitter's future is being called into doubt.

"Twitter is clearly very influential in getting the media and officials to pay attention. So it has a very special and unique place in that way," said Mahsa Alimardani, a senior researcher at the human rights NGO Article 19.

During the anti-government protests that have rocked Iran in recent months, tweets are "helping Iranians bear witness to the pain and struggles of their fellow countrymen, helping the world bear witness to what's happening," she told AFP.

Especially in countries that have clamped down on independent journalism or foreign correspondents, Twitter provides a crucial lifeline to the outside world.

This week, posts from inside the Chinese iPhone factory operated by Foxconn showed workers rebelling against a total Covid lockdown, shattering the government's attempts to portray a veneer of calm amid its draconian efforts to contain the virus.

"It's very important to get information out to the international media but also to document human rights violations and atrocities," said Marcus Michaelsen, a researcher specialised in digital activism under authoritarian regimes.

- 'Protest identity' -

Twitter had some 237 million daily users at end-June, well below the nearly two billion Facebook or one billion TikTok users.

But its pithy, at-a-glance format allows the network to punch far above its weight for opposition groups, since anyone can become a "citizen journalist" who instantly shares images that government authorities don't want to be seen.

For Nadia Idle, an Egyptian-British activist who took part in the Tahrir Square uprising in Egypt in 2011, tweets of anti-regime protests across the Middle East also encouraged people by showing that they were not alone.

"Its capacity to broadcast this event, and the amount of activists that were tweeting in English, made it a spectacle for people from the outside," she said.

Faced with viral tweets provoking global outrage, outside governments can also feel domestic pressure to take action or at least condemn repressive governments.

And even in democratic countries, Twitter's function as a digital town hall can provide activists with a megaphone that previously might have been out of reach.

Over the past decade, the BlackLivesMatter hashtag has become synonymous with the movement to highlight racism and police violence against African Americans, shining a light on discriminations that often went unseen.

"They use the features of Twitter, of social media, to create a protest identity, to create a common feeling within the movement," Michaelsen said.

"They know that they can reach journalists and policymakers more, more directly than on Instagram, for instance."

- 'Would be a big loss' -

Since the upheaval created by Musk's takeover, Twitter has seen a wave of defections as people worry that posts will no longer be sufficiently curated to weed out disinformation and provocations.

Activists warn that if Twitter dies, the world will lose a crucial historical record of social movements that might not have gained traction without the digital documentation.

"Twitter has maintained an archive of so many different movements and so many different events... So losing that archive would be a big loss, it's a historical record in some way," Alimardani said.

Charles Lister, a political scientist at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said oppressive regimes or terror groups would be the only beneficiaries of losing a powerful check on their behaviour.

In his work on the Syria civil war, Lister says Twitter has been "vital" to documenting war crimes and providing aid.


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First Published Date: 25 Nov, 19:59 IST