Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest

Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest

by Zeynep Tufekci


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A firsthand account and incisive analysis of modern protest, revealing internet-fueled social movements’ greatest strengths and frequent challenges

To understand a thwarted Turkish coup, an anti–Wall Street encampment, and a packed Tahrir Square, we must first comprehend the power and the weaknesses of using new technologies to mobilize large numbers of people. An incisive observer, writer, and participant in today’s social movements, Zeynep Tufekci explains in this accessible and compelling book the nuanced trajectories of modern protests—how they form, how they operate differently from past protests, and why they have difficulty persisting in their long-term quests for change.
Tufekci speaks from direct experience, combining on-the-ground interviews with insightful analysis. She describes how the internet helped the Zapatista uprisings in Mexico, the necessity of remote Twitter users to organize medical supplies during Arab Spring, the refusal to use bullhorns in the Occupy Movement that started in New York, and the empowering effect of tear gas in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. These details from life inside social movements complete a moving investigation of authority, technology, and culture—and offer essential insights into the future of governance.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300215120
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 05/16/2017
Pages: 360
Sales rank: 1,079,299
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Zeynep Tufekci is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times, associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Information and Library Science, and a faculty associate at the Harvard Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society.

Table of Contents

Preface ix

Introduction xxi

Part 1 Making a Movement

1 A Networked Public 3

2 Censorship and Attention 28

3 Leading the Leaderless 49

4 Movement Cultures 83

Part 2 A Protester's Tools

5 Technology and People 115

6 Platforms and Algorithms 132

7 Names and Connections 164

Part 3 After the Protests

8 Signaling Power and Signaling to Power 189

9 Governments Strike Back 223

Epilogue: The Uncertain Climb 261

Notes 279

Acknowledgments 309

Index 313


How are today’s social movements unlike those of the past?
The Civil Rights Movement had been active for more than a decade and still needed half a year of planning to organize the 1963 March on Washington. In contrast, the Occupy Movement organized global protests in two weeks in more than 80 cities, mostly using Facebook and Twitter. In the past, the protest was the culmination of prior organizing. Today, the huge protest may be the very first step in the movement’s existence. Tech tools are more than a way to communicate; they are essential to organization, for good and bad.
What is the biggest misconception about today’s protests?
People believe that “clicktivism” or “slacktivism”—when people “like” a social media post or change their Facebook profile picture—is always easy, and that it displaces other types of protests “in real life.” Clicking isn’t always easy. A Chinese dissident tweeting is taking a bigger risk than a Westerner marching in the streets. Instead of artificially dividing the world into real and unreal, we should understand the kind of capacity that different protests signal. Besides, most of the time, online communication and physical acts complement each other.
What are your most important tools during a protest?

For me, it's my smartphone and helmet. The phone provides awareness and lets me share notes and pictures. The helmet protects my head from rocks and tear gas canisters that may be shot at the crowd. But the real resource is the people, of course.
Explain the importance of tear gas.

I first wanted to call the book "Beautiful Tear Gas." The first time you're teargassed, you think you will die. You can't breathe; it's horrible. But tear gas doesn't kill you, and everyone around you comes to your aid, washing your face and helping you to stand up. You do stand up—even more united with your fellow protesters.
What unites crowds to stand for a common cause?

Police brutality, media censorship, and dismissal by powerful people. When this happens to you, you realize that others you may have dismissed may be worth listening to. Then you find yourself next to these people, facing tear gas together. This brings down barriers.

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