Some of you more technically savvy folks may have heard about twitter, a site that allows you to share 125 character statements with people who “follow” you or subscribe to your posts. It can be used for a variety of things: political activism, awkward online flirting, finding out about steals around town, stalking celebrities from far away, being overwhelmed by the amount of newspaper articles you will never read, sharing too-intimate and/or banal details about your personal life, etc. Others of you may roll your eyes disdainfully and proudly state that you do not tweet since you don’t think highly enough of yourself to assume others would want to know what you have to say; you are probably correct. Others, of course, simply have not had cause or time to enter the twitosphere. Regardless of my, your, or Mrs. Ackerman’s opinion on the site, it has become a pillar of the social networking age.
Tonight I had the great pleasure of sitting round a table at a roof top cafe in posh Zamalek with some twitter activists. During the revolution of Jan. 25, both twitter and facebook were used extensively in order to organize the protesters and avoid the regime’s arm of political oppression that could shut down and monitor cell phone networks and other traditional forms of communication with ease. It remains one of the preferred ways to communicate current political or other events and there is a community and shared culture among the activtwits, or twitter activists. That word is not real–I just made it up. Feel free to use it but please cite me.
Last Tuesday, there was a tweet-up party where people known only by their handle (name on twitter) gathered with their fellow tweeters avatar to avatar and twittered the night away, presumably talking Egyptian politics, etc. I was not present, so I only speak on what I heard through the grape vine. Ironically, or perhaps fortuitously, that very same night the clashes broke out randomly in downtown, so the whole gaggle of activtwits rushed down and did what they do best: tweet and avoid being hit by cans of tear gas.
Speaking of tear gas, one of the gentlemen present apparently recently acquired some gas masks from the trunk of a guy’s car out in Ataba, in preparation for the big demonstrations planned for Friday. He said we were welcome to come, but I think I may have made plans to sleep in and stay at home already. Alaa al-Aswani said that he was going to be there too.
The entire world of twitter and activtwits remains completely unknown to many Egyptians however. I hesitate to use numbers or “facts” because I’m unaware of them (see blog post by someone more knowledgeable), but it is my perception that there is some degree of separation between the activists of the revolution and the average Muhammad who is getting tired of the unrest. There is also the issue of class, as not all are wealthy enough to access the internet readily or tweet from their blackberries, so it remains to be seen how these two currents in Egyptian society will interact with one another.
I’ll be watching the tweets roll in from Tahrir on Friday.