There’s endless back-and-forth over whether or not Twitter really played a significant part in the failed Iranian “revolution” of June 2009. Did Twitter grosssly exaggerate the opposition strength and help to identify people subsequently arrested? Or did it link previously disconnected people and help to bring the regime to the brink of collapse?
This theme is picked up and applied to the very different Chinese experience by Professor Hu Yong, who is reflecting on the flood of tweets unleashed by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to dissident Liu Xiaobo. In China, he says, social media like Twitter are not likely to be suddenly transformative but they do push a “more subtle social progress”.
I predict that the next topic in Twitter Studies will be the role of covert tweet manipulation in totalitarian societies. Twitter and social media massively increase the range of networks at the price of removing face-to-face contact. Looking someone in the eye is often the best (if not the infallible) way to check whether someone is who they say they are or whether they are telling the truth.