// The role of the Internet in the revolutionary uprising in Tunisia.
// A conversation with someone who was there.

by Karin Kosina vka kyrah

Much has been written - and much more will certainly be written in the days to come - on the role of the Internet in the revolutionary uprising in Tunesia that is going on right now. (In case you have not been following the events, Al-Jazeera has a good timeline to get you started.) Articles range from Wired's naively enthusiastic Tweeting Tyrants Out of Tunisia: Global Internet at Its Best to Evgeny Morozov's highly critical remarks on the topic.

Most of this commentary however is written by non-Tunisians... by people who were not there. I thought it would be interesting to ask someone who was. What follows is a transcript of a conversation I had last night with a Tunisian who goes by the name @sans_url on Twitter. I am sharing this with their permission. (Translated from the original French; paragraphs marked with K and written in italics are mine; emphasis added by me.)

The conversation

I had posted a link to Evgeny Morozov's article First thoughts on Tunisia and the role of the Internet on Twitter. S contacted me and expressed his disagreement:

S: I can explain the role of the Internet in the revolution we are undergoing in Tunisia. I find Morozov's article superficial.

K: What is the role of the Internet, then? I would be very interested in hearing your explanation. I am not saying that the Internet has not played a role, but I am concerned that people will forget that it was first and foremost a revolution in the street and not in virtual space.

S: Sorry, kyrah. Without the Internet there would be no flow of information, neither within the country nor to the outside world. You are too far away to understand. It's a revolution for everyone here, we have overthrown the president, the street has won!

K: It's true that I am far away. That's exactly why I'm trying to better understand. I get that it would have been a lot harder for people to organise themselves without the Internet... but don't you think that the revolution would have happened even without this means of communication?

S: No, without the Internet it would be possible for the massacre to happen in silence for us and for the outside world. Ben Ali has censured all the media and especially the Internet (everything except for Al-Jazeera TV).

K: If Ben Ali has censored the Internet, how did you manage to circumvent the blocking? (What technology did you use?)

S: Proxys. Twitter wasn't inaccessible, nor was Facebook. (But the regime has attacked email accounts and Facebook accounts.)

K: I see. Thank you for taking the time to explain. So you are saying that the Internet has in effect been essential in what has been happening?

S: For the media dissemination of the uprising, yes, the Internet has replaced the media. The Tunisians have become the reporters on the social networks. Five years ago, without Facebook and Twitter, the same uprising would have been smothered.

The demands of the people: down with Internet censorship, freedom of expression... down with the corrupt regime.

Ben Ali has always severely punished influential bloggers, he even kidnapped some of them in the start of the revolution. It is said that the regime employs 600 cybercops to censor/block the Internet, like in China and North Korea.

A good summary: La génération Facebook plus forte que Ben Ali.

K: Thanks so much for all this, it's amazing to hear the real story from someone who is there and not have to depend on the reports of traditional media (of which there aren't many, and what there is isn't necessarily of great quality).

S: We are living it. We are the witnesses.

Thank you again, @sans_url, for sharing your perspective.

I realise that one conversation with one person is a very subjective thing. But if social networks can help us better understand the complexities of our changing world, it is precisely in making it possible to directly interact with individuals who are involved in creating these changes, rather than having to rely on second-hand information. And this is why I wanted to share this conversation with you all.

So did the Internet matter?

I would say yes.

Of course this was a revolution of the people, fought first and foremost in the real world. Not Twitter, Not WikiLeaks: A Human Revolution. Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to discount the impact that the Internet has had.

For those of you who read French, here is an excellent summary of Tunisian cyber activism: Histoire de cyberactivisme tunisien.

To the people of Tunisia, who stood up against oppression, fought for their freedom, and won: You are an inspiration to the whole world.

// 20110115 _ Karin Kosina vka kyrah _ email || twitter _ released under the cc by-nd license _