As the revolution in Egypt continues to unfold, I can’t help thinking of Mme. Defarge from A Tale of Two Cities. She sits in the bar her husband owns, and listens to conversations about different events and people. She listens for developments in the French Revolution, staying silent in a corner of the pub, and keeping to her knitting.
It’s later revealed in the book that she is knitting a secret code; she is making a list of the people to be killed for the revolution’s cause. The list would later be passed on to the assassins. That was social media in Dickens’ day.
What if Mme. Defarge had access to the social media of today? How would her message have changed? Ok, maybe a secret hit list still wouldn’t have been published on Facebook, but would the ultimate cause of her knitting have changed? Her revolution still happened, and without the internet. What’s more, it stemmed from another revolution; it was really only after the French heard of the success of America’s liberation that they started making plans of their own. Word still got around.
Uprisings haven’t changed. They may happen more quickly with the ease of modern media, but ultimately, Facebook in these situations is the new set of knitting needles.
What has changed is the audience. We are no longer experiencing these revolutions second-hand. We are on the ground. The revolution has gone global.
It wasn’t too long ago that I relied on the newspaper for news. In high school, I was always on the bus or walking, or rushing in the morning to get ready, so radio just never crossed my radar. I honestly brought the newspaper to school with me. As for television news broadcasts, I was simply never in the house or available during the news hour. With a newspaper, I was usually about a day late with the most current events. More than that, because a paper only has so much space, there would very rarely be more than one article of the same topic. Now, I’m immediately being flooded with information, and not just by journalists.
When different mediums were introduced, reporting stopped being a monologue. When radio stations had callers and streeters became a point of high-interest, a dialogue began. What Egypt has shown us is that the world of communications is now an entire play, with multiple characters coming in and out of the story, all adding dialogue and important information to the central themes and plot. While the French were influenced by the Americans to host their own revolution, no one from the outside was necessarily encouraged to step in and help. Now, everyone seems to have an opinion. The response from people around the world has actually caused changed as well; the US government was strongly encouraged to take sides and quickly because the public was tuned into exactly what was happening and wanted a development. If only the work of the traditional journalist was available, I don’t think the reaction would have been as strong.
To hear of all of these events through a filter would lessen the impact of the images and videos we have access to. To hear a journalist’s experiences on the ground and hear a few interviews with citizens is different from hearing the experiences of someone who has lived under Mubarak’s regime, and who is now acting with all the passion that comes along side those living conditions.
That we have access to more information than we can properly absorb is not, I don’t think, a problem. The average citizen won’t spend time with every single medium that offers something on the events in Tahrir Square. But that the information is available at all is significant, and has so far not proven to be a negative thing. It is an overflow, yes, but it just reinforces the broader message: there is a revolution. Some of the information is even telling the anti-revolution story. Both sides are being explored through first person accounts. It is a new form of journalism, and it seems, through the more immediate connection, to be affecting more people.
I do believe there is a time and place for journalists, and for the filter they provide; there will always be situations that arise that need to be analysed and that need to be carefully explained. There will also always be stories that simply deserve good reporting. But when it comes to revolutions, which is a people’s cause, it should be told by the people.