Twitter and Tear Gas: Social Media and Political Mobilization

By: Rachel Livingston


This past week we attended an event hosted by World Affairs in San Francisco featuring Zeynep Tufekci, New York Times contributing opinion writer and author of Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest, who offered commentary on social media in an age of widespread protests.

While the panel mainly focused on her own background as a programmer in Turkey, she discussed how social media and technology plays a huge role in protest and social activism. As tech PR professionals, we are constantly immersed in Twitter and emails and are surrounded by the buzzwords of cloud or artificial intelligence.

However, it should come as no surprise that we are working and living in a charged political time, dominated by fake news and protest, that even sees tech reporters tweeting and writing about the changing political landscape.

The key event takeaway was how social media allows us to scale up protests quickly but doesn’t create clear decision making when it comes to what happens after the marching is done. Zeynep compared it to a dreadful meeting you wish ended fifteen minutes ago; social media creates a similar type feeling of entrapment after a big movement. Especially since Facebook and Twitter are algorithmically designed to keep you on its platform for as long as possible, creating a never-ending cycle. For instance, after the very successful Women’s March was organized on Facebook – and scaled up in just a few weeks -- there was left a big question mark: how do we create change and what do we do next?

Almost everyone has his or her own individualized vision and opinion on how a movement should progress, which creates a never-ending cycle of debate and acrimony. Just Google Women’s March and you’ll see articles, forums and other content highlighting “action 2” or “opinion z” – none of this existed before the Internet or social media.

Overall, it was interesting to listen and think about how social media has changed both our everyday life and the political landscape. We are truly living in an interesting point of history.

Rachel Livingston