Hanging out on Twitter makes for an odd perspective on world events. Like Revolution 2011 World Tour.
There’s an expectation to comment on these major upheavals. And at the same time, an expectation that seeing lunch tweets interspersed with desperate pleas from protesters is meant to make us uncomfortable. It does. (But then, we’re also meant to click on top Tweets from someecards.com, like the one to the left, for our daily snicker.)
But I don’t know how to respond (err, Tweet). I’m not trying to sound callous or uncaring or uninformed. But truthfully, I’m not always perfectly informed—like most people, I have a base of general knowledge, and certain things I focus on, and the rest is picked up as needed, usually in a hurry and usually online. In other words, I knew who Mubarak was, but I hadn’t heard of the Muslim Brotherhood until about a month ago. And unless the Middle East is your area of expertise, you’re probably somewhere in that same boat.
But the obligation remains—to lend your voice in support, having entered, as it were, into the global fray by virtue of a five-minute sign-up process on Twitter.
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I’m just not convinced that my “opinion,” such as it is, really matters in these issues. I mean, yes, I am for freedom. I wish the protesters much success. It is painful to see people living in fear of their governments and it’s uplifting to see those people take to the streets and demands rights we take for granted. I’ll follow the news and discuss events with friends. I’ll send concerned emails to friends who have family in Egypt.
But I find the pressure to provide some form of virtual support to be an exceedingly uncomfortable demand. What exactly am I supposed to do, I keep thinking. I can spread articles and news updates. Some are bound to be untrue, and some are bound to be uninformed opinion (I keep wondering what future historians will say when they compare our in-the-moment tweets with what actually was happening on the ground). Should I call on Mubarak to step down? Maybe I should be tweeting for Gadhafi to stop mowing down his people from the sky? And “Go Tunisia” just sounds trite. This isn’t a pep rally. (Does anyone even Tweet about Tunisia anymore? It’s a bit passé by now, no?)
Perhaps I should click-click my way into a virtual protest on Facebook, so I can tell my future grandchildren that I was there, from the comfort of PJs and a laptop in bed. There are any number to choose from:
- A Virtual “March of Millions” in Solidarity with Egyptian Protestors (865,126 Attending, but 3,976,405 Awaiting Reply, and, most mysteriously of all, 109,637 Maybe Attending), with this description: “This is an ONLINE event. You do not need to be in Egypt or attend a particular march take part in this event. By clicking ‘I’m attending’ you are simply showing your support for the Egyptian cause online.”
- Virtual Rally for Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain, Iran, and Libya
Once I’ve tweeted my support, at what point is it appropriate to go back to my own minor gripes or to talking up a great book I just read? Look through any Twitter feed—every message is lined up the same as the one before and after it. There’s nothing to distinguish the sentiments and little to indicate how long I pondered on Libya before flitting back to a gripe about the TTC. It all becomes a little reductive and meaningless.
I’m not trying to be callous or insensitive. I’m just uneasy about our response, particularly via Twitter, to what’s going on around the world right now.