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Twitter vs. Facebook: Bringing Transparency to the Middle East

Tanya Gupta's picture

Think about it:

  • Twitter limits all "conversations" to 140 words
  • Twitter allows privacy whereas Facebook is based on discovery of relationships
  • Twitter relationships can be one way, the way real relationships often are (we all “know” President Obama but he knows very few of us) whereas Facebook is always a two way street

 

Wherever democracy is absent or weak, for example in a dictatorship or a monarchy, there could be a high price to pay for any open expressed dissension.  Twitter allows anonymity for those who push for transparency and democracy.  Although one can exist without the other, studies show that the two are highly linked.

A 2011 study from the University of Washington entitled “Opening Closed Regimes: What Was the Role of Social Media During the Arab Spring?” showed that social media, via Twitter, played a vital role during the revolutionary movements in Tunisia and Egypt.  The authors said “for the first time we have evidence confirming social media’s critical role in the Arab Spring”.  The project created a database of information collected from Twitter, analyzing more than 3 million Tweets based on keywords used, and tracking which countries thousands of individuals tweeted from during the revolutions.Although the study focused on Tunisia and Egypt only, when it comes to the the Arab world, while the percentage of total population that uses Twitter is small, the active users are also quite influential. Some of these users are using their influence to demand improved governance and transparency.
 

 

In Saudi Arabia, for example, the New York Times reports that whistleblower named “Mujtahidd” meaning “studious” has 660,000 followers and is creating popular demand for increased transparency.  While Mujtahidd does not have proof of his accusations, he has written about corruption in construction and arms deals and other scandals.  Mujtahidd has influence - as seen by the royal family’s fairly constant denials of his claims.  Twitter has allowed him to keep his identity secret so far.

On the other hand, a CNBC poll found that “59 percent of respondents said that they had little to no trust in Facebook to keep their information private.”  An NYT blog which quoted the poll concluded that Facebook has pushed the boundaries of privacy by opening up material that was formerly designated as private, and forcing users to make choices that reduced their privacy. The blog observes that Twitter on the other hand has never made its users’ private information  public when it has introduced new features and that customers trust Twitter more. 

As the push for increased openness and transparency continues, it will be Twitter rather than Facebook that will be the choice of the masses, and most specially in countries that have closed regimes.

 

Photo credit: Christopher S Penn

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