cover image Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Frailty of Networked Protest

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

Zeynep Tufekci. Yale Univ, $30 (352p) ISBN 978-0-300-21512-0

This insightful and analytical account of mass protest in the 21st century focuses on the “intertwined” power and weaknesses of new technologies that can be used to galvanize large numbers of people. Tufekci, a contributing opinion writer at the New York Times and a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Information and Library Science, writes that the strengths of social movements lie in their capacity to set a narrative, disrupt the status quo, and affect electoral or institutional changes. She uses these criteria as a framework to study the impact of contemporary movements. For instance, the 2011 Tahrir Square rebellion in Egypt, which emerged rapidly by using digital technologies, had “narrative” and “disruptive capacity” but was unable to bring about electoral change in part because many of its participants distrusted elections and didn’t vote. She grounds her analyses in her own experiences as a participant and social scientist observer in several widespread antiauthoritarian uprisings, including the Zapatistas in Mexico in 1994, Egypt’s Tahrir Square in 2011, and the 2012 Occupy movements in the United States. A complex portrait emerges of the culture of modern movements “with its emphasis on participation, horizontalism, institutional distrust, ad hoc organizations eschewing formal ones, and strong expressive bent... [that] cuts across political ideology.” This comprehensive, thought-provoking work makes a valuable contribution to understanding recent political developments and provides a clear path by which grassroots organizers can improve future efforts. (May)