Tweetography: the sounds of Egyptian silence

Guest post by Graham Hough-Cornwell

This post is not a content analysis of the recent tweets about Egypt. Their volume is staggering and would demand a more rigorous analysis, both qualitative and quantitative, than is possible at this time. Just click on the hash tag “#Egypt,” wait a minute to refresh, and you will have hundreds of new tweets in dozens of different languages.

There are calls to action, directions for protesters, jokes, cracks about Anderson Cooper, links to video and photo galleries, and the latest in negotiations between the Mubarak regime and the White House. One thing worth noting though: for all that Twitter activity, the pro-Mubarak crowd has been notably quiet, even silent at times.

Anti Mubarak demonstration at Tahiri Square, Feb 1, 2011. Photo Credit: darkroom productions, Creative Commons, Flickr
Anti Mubarak demonstration at Tahiri Square, 2/1/2011. Credit: darkroom productions/Flickr

Setting aside the trends and messages of the thousands (millions?) of tweets out there, it is fascinating to look at the flexibility and agility of the protest itself. Despite government crackdowns and blockages of webpages – as early as the first day of protesting – and cell phone networks, the flow of news and information never ceased.

Even after the government effectively shut off the entire internet, tweets continued to pour in, live from Tahrir Square and other locales across Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez.

Four of five cell phone providers in Egypt were shut down within three days of the first major protest on January 25. Internet then followed, causing a 90 percent drop in data traffic to and from Egypt. The only company to remain in operation was Noor, also incidentally the provider for the Egyptian Stock Exchange.

We are still witnessing the reaction to and consequences of the service stoppages. In the New York Times, Jim Cowie of Renesys, a New Hampshire company that monitors global internet traffic, commented, “In a fundamental sense, it’s as if you rewrote the map and they are no longer a country.”

Such drastic overstatements misunderstand the impact of the internet blockage and its relation to the protests. What map was being “rewritten,” exactly? Protests hardly seemed to slow despite the lack of mobile phone and internet access, and, while Egyptians may not have been able to live-blog from the 6th of October Bridge on their smart phones, the world outside Egypt did not want for eyewitness, up-to-the-minute reports. If there was indeed a new map, Egypt and Tahrir Square were at the very heart of it.

Tweeters in turn reacted strongly to assertions like Cowie’s, rejecting the power of Twitter and Facebok to fuel the revolution.

@SultanAlQassemi There was no twitter, mobile phones, Satellite TV, internet, facebook, sms or youtube when Romanians overthrew Ceausescu in 1989. #Jan25

@altivexfoundry #Egypt #Tunisia “It was not a twitter revolution … It was a revolution … Covered by twitter” #jnb5feb

@asteris Won’t be RTing anything w. words Twitter (or Facebook) & revolution adjacent to each other; disrespectful towards the brave ppl of #Egypt

Continue reading “Tweetography: the sounds of Egyptian silence”

Tweetography: making cuts to save lives?

Guest post by Graham Hough-Cornwell

The XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna concluded on July 23. Twitter buzzed all week with updates from speakers and attendees, and comments from those who, like me, didn’t attend but followed from home.

The biggest stories of the week? Undoubtedly at the top are the speeches of Bill Clinton and Bill Gates. They each championed male circumcision as an effective method for preventing HIV transmission.

Some tweeters expressed relief at finally seeing circumcision receive serious attention as a possible preventive measure:

GLOBALHEALTHorg: Male circumcision, proven HIV prevention strategy, finally gets some attention at #AIDS2010,

Others, however, doubt recent findings, particularly from activist groups Intact America and the International Coalition for Genital Integrity:

Intactamerica: New study shows circumcision would not halt spread of HIV in the United States: #i2 #AIDS2010 #humanrights #AIDS

Tweeters representing these groups contend that males who sign up for circumcision are under the impression they no longer need to use a condom.

Dan Bollinger, a spokesman for ICGI, argues that without “fully informed consent,” circumcisions are unethical, even for adult males. But no one is talking about duping men into the surgery. Rather, if the problem is simply a misunderstanding of necessary precautions and possible health benefits, then isn’t the solution more information and more options, not less?

In a press release from this week, Intact America scorches a straw man by claiming that the circumcision solution is just another desperate attempt to find a “silver bullet”.

But the speeches of Clinton and Gates – not to mention the many roundtables, conversations, research presentations, and blog posts of countless others – also highlighted major advances in a microbicidal gel that women apply before and after sex:

Gatesfoundation: microbicide trial: A turning point for women in #HIV prevention: #AIDS2010

Everyone would love a “silver bullet”. In the meantime, some practical, implementable solutions might be the gold standard.

Graham Hough-Cornwell is an M.A. candidate in Middle East Studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University and a Research Assistant for the Elliott School’s Culture in Global Affairs program.

Image: “Teaching scouts about HIV/AIDS 15,” from flickr user hdptcar, licensed with Creative Commons.

Tweetography: FIFA, can we blow our horns?

Guest post by Graham Hough-Cornwell

The World Cup is all of six days old and already the controversy rages. Not over the best team, the most skillful player, the biggest disappointment, or the prettiest goal, but over the vuvuzela, a thin plastic horn popular at South African soccer matches and blaring by the thousands at every World Cup game so far.

The French national team, following a disappointing scoreless tie against Uruguay, blamed the instrument for their poor play. After a lackluster showing in a narrow 1-0 win over Nigeria, Argentinian star and 2010 World Player of the Year Lionel Messi claimed, “It is impossible to communicate, it’s like being deaf.”

Twitter provides the main outlet for people around the world to express their hatred (or, less often, their love) for the vuvuzela. A simple search on Twitter for “#vuvuzela” reveals thousands of tweets posted daily around the globe. Most tweets are humorous:

JonahFisher: Girl in front of me is blowing #vuvuzela and has earplugs in. Strikes me as rather unfair. #wc2010

lee_Kern: The kazoo has more grace than the Vuvuzela, and the kazoo is a f***ing stupid instrument… #vuvuzela

The complaints came as no surprise. Following public outcry over the vuvuzela during last summer’s World Cup warmup tournament in South Africa FIFA (soccer’s world governing body) President Sepp Blatter decided not to ban the horn because he did not want to “Europeanize the first African World Cup.”

Continue reading “Tweetography: FIFA, can we blow our horns?”