Guatemalans took to the streets in protest over the alleged murder of a prominent attorney by the country’s president, and an unrelated man was arrested for tweeting about it. The protests were reportedly organized on Facebook and other social networking sites, and streamed live to the world by laptop. Xeni Jardin of Boing Boing has been reporting from Guatemala directly for the past two weeks, and in an essay two days ago she calls this the “Twitter Revolution“. I love the story of new technology enabling mass social dissent and change, but I’m not at all sure it’s true. Sorely missing from Xeni’s narrative is the role of other communication networks — like good old fashioned word-of-mouth — and the demographics of internet access in a poor country.
The background: Attorney Rodrigo Rosenberg was shot while riding his bicycle on May 10th, just a few days after recording a video message which begins,
If you are watching this message, it is because I was assassinated by President Álvaro Colom.
The video implicates not only the president but the major state-owned bank, and indeed much of the current government, and there were mass protests in the capital city. Xeni has been covering the story from Guatemala since the 20th, and I can only commend her for actually being there. However, her coverage has focussed on the role of the internet in these protests.
Google is not reality and Twitter is not reality in exactly the same way that television is not reality. Part of the reason that Middle-Eastern peasants have such a warped view of America is that they too watch Desperate Housewives (via satellite or bootleg VCD), but never get the chance to actually meet some Americans. To them, all American women are blonde and slutty. There’s no reason to believe that we’re not getting a similarly warped view of other cultures when we watch their internet.