Twitter does not cause revolution, people do
Harini Calamur | Sunday, February 20, 2011
You need to have been stuck under a rock in Antarctica or living in
furthest reaches or China to have missed the popular protest in Egypt
that led to the fall of a thirty-year-old dictatorship of President
The revolution didn’t happen because one morning the people of Egypt
woke up and said “Ah! Nice morning, we have nothing better to do, so
let’s get rid of our government”.
Rather, the protests were the culmination of 30 years of repression,
economic shackles, rampant corruption and above all - the inability of
the bulk of Egyptian population to have or meet aspirations of a
better tomorrow. It was a popular revolution and the government fell
because it could no longer get people to obey it - and that included
the Army that refused to fire on its people.
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However, if you were on-line and read or ‘heard’ comments from those
in the know — you would think that it was a Facebook or Twitter
revolution (17% of Egyptians have internet access and that was
severely blocked during the revolution) or a ‘social media-inspired
Ever since president Barack Obama won his election in the US, the
power of the social media to garner support for a cause or elections
has been talked about. What has been ignored is the sheer grassroots
mechanism — individuals — who manned the campaign.
Dedicated workers — in various parts of the USA—who used social media
as one of the tools to encourage voters to turn up and vote for their
candidate on election day. These people didn’t spam — rather they sent
targeted e-mails to a mailing list of around 13 million voters (around
10% of the total voters) got around 3 million to donate and so on.
While these 10% might have been great and strong supporters for Obama,
he would not have won if a substantial chunk of the remaining 90% who
were not part of the social network didn’t vote for him.
However, the hype was such that many believed that but for social
networking Obama — who incidentally is a brilliant and tireless
campaigner — would not have won. So much so, in the last general
election the most visible part of the BJP’s election campaign in India
was its online ‘LK Advani for Prime Minister campaign’.
There were internet groups, social media, web advertising and the rest
of web marketing brought into play on this campaign. To no avail. If
anything, the BJP fared worse than it did when it didn’t use social
media to campaign. On the other hand, the Congress, which, has an
embarrassingly sad web presence, managed to win and do better despite
the fact that it did not use the social media.
There is genuine problem when you start mistaking the tool for the
outcome. Just because you have a screw driver at home, doesn’t make
you an electrician.
While the analogy might sound nonsensical - that is exactly how those
active on social media are seeing its use in polity and society.
Internet penetration in India was around 5% in the last general
elections, and while it should have grown since then, it is nowhere
near the reach of television (around 50%). This means that 95% of
voters have no internet, and 50% have no television. Campaigns in
India have to be fought the old-fashioned way — household by
household, constituency by constituency.
Revolutions happen because the bulk of the population rises up against
a government. Parties win because a large chunk of the population
votes for a party. While social media is great fun, and an effective
networking tool - over reliance can lead to a certain kind of
You meet people from similar backgrounds, similar values, and you
extrapolate this behaviour to the remaining population. There is a
great danger in mistaking the wood for the trees if you take this
So the next time someone tells you that the power of social media is
going to bring down governments, or bring in government, don’t argue
with the converted — just smile — because it isn’t true.
Expecting social media to deliver revolution or governments is a bit
like expecting Coke or Pepsi to sell via social media without getting
their ground distribution in place.
Harini Calamur is a media entreprenuer, writer, blogger, teacher and
the main slave to an imperious hound. She blogs at
and @calamur on Twitter