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For political activists, Twitter packs an important punch

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

From the Arab Spring uprisings to the MeToo movement in which women spoke out about sexual assaults, Twitter has proven itself to be a formidable ally for political activists and opposition groups. established, an irreplaceable ally.

Other social media platforms may have more users, but the network now owned by billionaire Elon Musk dominates the global conversation – even if Twitter’s future is in doubt.

Mahsa Alimardani, senior researcher at the human rights NGO Article 19, said: “Twitter clearly has a huge influence in attracting the attention of the media and officials. So, it has a very special place and is unique in that way.”

In the anti-government protests that have rocked Iran in recent months, the tweets are “helping Iranians witness the pain and struggle of their compatriots, helping the world witness the what’s going on,” she told AFP.

Especially in countries that already control independent press or foreign correspondents, Twitter provides an important lifeline to the outside world.

This week, posts from inside the Chinese iPhone factory run by Foxconn showed workers revolting against a total lockdown imposed by Covid-19, disrupting the government’s attempt to portray calm appearance amid their draconian efforts to contain the virus.

Marcus Michaelsen, a researcher specializing in digital activity under authoritarian regimes, said: “It is very important to get information out into the international media but also to document behavior. human rights abuses and atrocities.

– ‘Anti-identity’ –

Twitter had about 237 million daily users at the end of June, far below the nearly two billion Facebook users or the one billion TikTok users.

But its succinct, concise format allows the network to outweigh its weight on opposition groups, as anyone can become a “citizen journalist” who instantly shares the images. which government agencies do not want to be seen.

For Nadia Idle, a British-Egyptian activist who participated in the 2011 Tahrir Square uprising in Egypt, tweets about anti-regime protests across the Middle East also encouraged people by way of showing that they are not alone.

“The ability to broadcast the event and the number of activists who tweeted in English made it a spectacle for people from the outside,” she said.

Faced with viral tweets causing global outrage, foreign governments may also feel pressure at home to act 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 hashtag #BlackLivesMatter has become synonymous with the movement to highlight racism and police violence against African Americans, shedding light on often unseen discriminations. to be seen.

“They use the features of Twitter, of the social network, to create a protest identity, to create a sense of community in the movement,” says Michaelsen.

“They know they can reach journalists and policymakers more directly than on Instagram, for example.”

– ‘It would be a great loss’ –

Since the upheaval caused by Musk’s takeover, Twitter has seen a wave of defections as people worry that posts will no longer be adequately curated to weed out misinformation and provocative.

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

“Twitter has maintained an archive of so many different movements and so many different events… So losing that archive would be a huge loss, in a way, a record. historical record,” Alimardani said.

Charles Lister, a political scientist at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said oppressive regimes or terrorist groups would be the only beneficiaries of losing strong control over their behavior. .

In his work on the Syrian civil war, Lister said Twitter plays a “critical” role in documenting war crimes and providing aid.

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