We have more thoughts on this forthcoming, but for now: it’s worth remembering, as TNR’s Jason Zengerle pointed out, Moldova’s so-called “Twitter Revolution” as a cautionary tale against preemptive and Twitter-triumphant melodrama. Here’s Ethan Zuckerman, a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center who studied the Moldova uprisings and their coverage, discussing the-revolution-that-kinda-wasn’t with On the Media’s Bob Garfield:
BOB GARFIELD: Can you start by laying out for us what were the first indications that this mass of protestors in Moldova had been organized?
ETHAN ZUCKERMAN: Well, what we saw in Moldova was a lot of discussion in blogs, on Facebook, lots of different social media, with youth, particularly youth on the left, very upset, believing that the elections were rigged. And then we saw street protests with more than 10,000 people out on the streets of Chisinau a week ago Tuesday. And people very, very quickly made a link between social media and the actual manifestations in the streets.
Near as we can tell, the first to the scene was The Telegraph in the U.K. with a story linking Twitter as a causal factor in all of this. And then there was a thoughtful, although perhaps a little breathless, post from my friend Evgeny Morozov on a very influential blog called Net Effect, which declared this the “Twitter Revolution.”
And then from the press standpoint of this, we were off to the races. It showed up in The New York Times the next day as the “Twitter Revolution,” and that meme propagated in a lot of different directions.
GARFIELD: Now, one thing you discovered as you looked at the data is that most of the tweets emanated not from the scene of the protest but elsewhere, because there aren’t many Twitter subscribers in Moldova. But, of course, that doesn’t mean that Twitter wasn’t a catalyst in one what happened. How big a part did it play?
ZUCKERMAN: My take on it at this point is that Twitter probably wasn’t all that important in organizing the demonstrations. Where I think they were enormously important is helping people, particularly people in the Moldovan Diaspora, keep up with the events in real time.
One thing to keep in mind is that Moldova has a huge population living abroad - it’s more than 25 percent of the country - and they were really attached to Twitter as a source of information. Roughly a quarter of all of the messages posted on Tuesday, the day of the actual demonstrations, were what we call re-tweets. It’s basically saying, hey, I’m quoting this speaker who said the following. And mostly those re-tweets were reports from people who either were in the square or had news from the square.
What you saw on that Tuesday was really people trying to find ways to sort of spontaneously organize a newsroom. By Wednesday, a lot of what seems to be going on in the Twittering is a sort of self-congratulatory, hey, we just held a revolution over Twitter – isn’t this exciting? Twitter will change the world.