I'm afraid I haven't been able to follow events in Tunisia and Egypt as closely as I would have liked as I was determined to enjoy an overdue holiday and a break from computer screens. And my mission was largely accomplished.
As part of an attempt to catch up, I've just been reading Jeff Jarvis, Jay Rosen and C.W. Anderson on the renewed argument over "Twitter revolutions". The role of Twitter in revolutions was first debated in 2009 with reference to Moldova and Iran and has been inevitably resurrected in light of the events in Tunisia and Egypt.
The overarching point these authors make is that the debate has become rather futile with various people pointing out that Twitter does not cause revolutions - an argument that nobody has made.
In 2009, I was critical of the use of the term 'Twitter revolution' by the news media for the political protests in Moldova. I felt the use of this phrase and some of the specific roles that were attributed to Twitter in news articles did not aid our understanding of what was happening in Moldova.
It also hindered our understanding of what Twitter was actually being used for and lumped together a variety of Internet tools under the term 'Twitter' - which I didn't think was helpful either.
In that spirit, what follows are a few notes on what we might have learnt from events in Moldova, Iran, Tunisia, and Egypt about the specific role of Twitter and other social media sites. Hopefully, it provides a starting point for understanding some of the implications of social media for politics.
The role of social media tools
1. Spreading ideas and initial organisation
2. Attracting the attention of the international news media
3. Facilitating an international support network
4. The importance of YouTube in providing imagery
5. A shift in power?
Limitations and problems
1. How useful is social media at the site of a protest?
2. The clampdown on Internet access
3. Representative of the situation ground?
4. A government can deploy the same tools against the protesters
5. Can loose leadership structures consolidate gains?