Twitter and Tear Gas [Zeynep Tufekci]

Start Date: 16 December 2020

Finish Date: 20 December 2020

Source: National Library Board, Singapore ebook

Goodreads link.

Goodreads summary:

A firsthand account and incisive analysis of modern protest, revealing internet-fueled social movements’ greatest strengths and frequent challenges

To understand a thwarted Turkish coup, an anti–Wall Street encampment, and a packed Tahrir Square, we must first comprehend the power and the weaknesses of using new technologies to mobilize large numbers of people. An incisive observer, writer, and participant in today’s social movements, Zeynep Tufekci explains in this accessible and compelling book the nuanced trajectories of modern protests—how they form, how they operate differently from past protests, and why they have difficulty persisting in their long-term quests for change.

Tufekci speaks from direct experience, combining on-the-ground interviews with insightful analysis. She describes how the internet helped the Zapatista uprisings in Mexico, the necessity of remote Twitter users to organize medical supplies during Arab Spring, the refusal to use bullhorns in the Occupy Movement that started in New York, and the empowering effect of tear gas in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. These details from life inside social movements complete a moving investigation of authority, technology, and culture—and offer essential insights into the future of governance.


  • I don’t remember exactly where I got the recommendation – I think it used to be recommended a lot on twitter back when I was on twitter – maybe by jace, or maybe the Trump beat twitter accounts, or maybe simply the science accounts who got a little political too.
  • “In fact, I try to avoid imposing any sort of teleology in my approach. My goal is not to judge success or failure, much less to provide recipes for either.” – I am fine with this, but I think there are a bunch of disappointed Goodreads reviews about the lack of recipes. Poor fellows.
  • I think that I should return to this book in a few months to reread, but importantly, reread along with danah boyd’s It’s Complicated. And I should try to see if there’s anything else to read along with. Tufekci does mention Here Comes Everybody in the preface – it’s been ages since I read that, and I’ve probably forgotten most of it, and might even be confusing it with The Long Tail. Which one came up with the idea of cognitive surplus, again?
  • A point this book makes often is that digital tools mean that networked protests are enabled, and that protests can spring up much quicker than they used to. But prior protests used to be much more organised, because the threshold to start a protest used to be so high that it would take a long time and lots of organisation to hit it – and that meant that there would be an organisation capable of pushing for change after the protests. The digitally fuelled protests haven’t quite figured out what change to ask for, and how to push it, yet.
  • I had a little bit of schadenfreude seeing Tufekci (effectively) calling Evgeny Morozov an idiot who couldn’t see the online-offline links.
  • Mentions that Facebook and similar made shared secret preferences visible – suddenly everybody knew that everybody else also hated the regime.
  • There’s a chapter about censorship and the Streisand effect which mentions that the lack of news about Kurds outraged other Turks; and how internet shutdowns draw attention to censorship. It got me wondering why similar outrage about Kashmir hasn’t spread in India. I think it’s because most Indians hate Kashmiris, and most Kashmiris (whether Pandits or Muslims) disdain Indians so much that the idea of help from them, or even to have a relationship with them, is anathema. When you never had communication to begin with, you don’t miss its absence.
  • There’s something about a Turkish group called 140journos that sets up ways to fact check videos and tips coming in from social media. I wonder if Indian #metoo twitter evolved the same sort of thing – I remember it being a controversy when it first broke out.
  • There’s a bit in Chapter 3 about logistics to supply food and medical aid to he Tahrir Square protestors using twitter. I just remembered the bit about Naopleon’s Grand Armee being, well, too grand to coordinate properly.
  • Makes a point that showing up at protests is actually fun and gives you warm feelings of solidarity and having participated in something bigger than yourself.
  • I finally encountered a definition of commodity fetishism, something that is usually cited but not explained or made the main point – it’s hiding social transactions behind monetary transactions.
  • Has a story about how Occupy Wall Street refused to let Rep John Lewis speak on a really weird point of principle that was exercised by only two people, but one veto was all that was needed.
  • Has a glorious story about how the Turkish LGBT community, sex worker community, and Turkish soccer fans both show up to Taksim Square, and the LGBT guys get the soccer fans to stop calling Erdogan a faggot; and the sex workers get them to stop calling him a son of a whore.
  • There’s a non-judgmental chapter on how Facebook and Twitter’s rules and news feed prioritisations affect protest movements. Maybe I’m as disappointed as the Goodreads reviewers I mentioned earlier, that the book isn’t more judgmental or prescriptive regarding this one point.
  • But while I keep raging against algorithmic feeds and how they take away the control that blogs and RSS feedreaders provide, T&TG does give me the important reminder that the connection with family and friends and general feel good vibe of Facebook gives it far broader reach than blogs will ever have.
  • It ends with, again, very descriptive chapters about the pros and cons of anonymous spaces vs transparent spaces and their pros and cons, the Turkey coup, the Occupy movement, and so forth. There’s also a troubling chapter where she describes censorship through misinformation (Turkish government accusing Twitter of being a hangout of criminals, so that party loyalists don’t join it and get exposed to new viewpoints; Russia’s troll army, and so forth) where she basically throws up her hands and says ‘Lord knows how we will deal with this’. Of course, some fucker somewhere will say ‘blockchain’.



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