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Thursday, April 09, 2009

A Twitter revolution

As a new convert to Twitter I am only just coming to terms with it and its value. I have yet to be convinced. However, any application that can send the Russian and Moldovan authorities into such a tizzy, whilst at the same time spontaneously empowering thousands of people must be worth a second look.

Today's Independent tells us that Russia is furious with the European Union over the Twitter Revolution as the current crisis in Moldova is being dubbed. It turns out that Russia is actually annoyed at the role of Romania in these protests and has accused them of backing a coup attempt. They have expelled the Romanian ambassador.

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement that said "any attempts to play on the emotions of the young people who make up the majority of the crowds, especially from outside the country, is not just reckless and reprehensible, but also short-sighted." The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, called the protests "outrageous" and the Duma called on the EU to condemn the protests.

The paper's description of how the internet has been used to organise the protests however, will give any authoritarian regime (and most democratic governments for the matter) pause for thought. The potential is enormous:

Young Moldovans discussed their next moves online as the role social networking sites played in organising the protests became clear.

Not too long ago, revolutions were named after colours or flowers – Orange for Ukraine, Rose for Georgia, Tulip for Kyrgyzstan. But in a sign that technology is now fuelling opposition to post-Soviet regimes as much as romantic ideals, the protests in Moldova have been dubbed the "Twitter Revolution".

In the list of most popular Twitter searches yesterday, along with contestants from Pop Idol and other television-related inanity, was "#pman" the abbreviation for Piata Marii Adunari Nationale, the Romanian name for the main square in Chisinau and the epicentre of the protests.

Every minute new posts were made in English and Romanian, with acquaintances and sympathisers keeping each other up to date on the situation in different parts of the country.

"North of Moldova TV IS OFF!!! but we have THE ALMIGHTY INTERNET! Let us use it to communicate peacefully for freedom!!" wrote one Twitter user yesterday afternoon, mirroring the many reports that television networks had been shut down in an attempt to stop the violence.

Others complained that their employers were not letting them join the protests; some simply posted rousing messages calling for freedom and a change of government.

Many of the "tweets" on Twitter, and blog posts on other internet sites, expressed dismay at the violent turn of events and suspicion that the authorities had provoked the violent clashes. Natalia Morar, a prominent Moldovan journalist and a leader of one of the youth groups behind the protests, posted a statement on her blog denouncing the violence.

She said the protests, organised under the slogan "I am not a Communist!", were organised online: "Six of us distributed information on the internet, Facebook, blogs, by SMS and email.

"All the organisation was through the internet, and 15,000 people came on to the street."

I would guess that the authorities were pretty frustrated trying to keep track of all this activity. They were most probably peeved too at the way that supporters in the west joined in on Twitter and elsewhere. Will we now see a Chinese-style clampdown on the internet in former eastern bloc countries such as Moldova and Russia?
more worrying for my mind is whether we'll see a Chinese-style internet clampdown in the UK. Oh wait... they don't need to, they'll just monitor it via their database and "disappear" offenders. Control with the illusion of freedom.

And yes, this latest Twitter episode shows the power of the thing, simple as it is, which is why politicians ignore it at their peril.
yet another example of how new technology can bring about changes in society no one - not even the best science fiction writers - would have imagined possible a few years earlier. Mind you I doubt if this is what the CIA had in mind when they apparently invented the internet for the US defence industry only 20 years ago!

But regarding the 'protests in moldova i do wonder how people here would feel if all those who didnt like the last welsh assembly election results occupied the streets demanding that the results were thrown out and trashed the assembly building.

It is also worth noting there are many protests taking place in support of the moldovan govt.

As i understand it the ruling moldovan cp won free and fair elections - polling more votes than all the other parties combined! Making it their third election victory in a row!

Still we all know what to do now if the tories win the next general election!

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