Cyprus has been at the centre of international attention for a couple of weeks. Information was flowing from every direction and the local and international news agencies reproduced everything – from unverified rumours about the resignation of the Minister of Finance during his visit in Russia, to imaginary offers to buy one of the two local banks. In all the crossfire of information, twitter saved the day. It helped verify information, collect information, alter pre-determined attitudes, translate economic jargon to human language and most importantly, mobilise people.
The role of social media, specifically twitter, was pivotal in navigating this minefield of false and distorted information. The first example has been the day after the return of the president before the arrival of the international media. The local media were broadcasting that only a few hundred people were gathered outside the parliament. At the same time, pictures were posted live on twitter showing thousands of people. The panic of conventional journalists that have by now realised the full potential of crowdsourcing is obvious, indicative of which is the topic of a popular radio show broadcasted two days ago, where four middle aged journalists were condemning twitter because it created ‘confusion’.
Besides the filtering of the false information distributed by the news agencies, twitter was most useful in collecting information. For example, I was tweeting from inside the headquarters of Bank of Cyprus where the employees met, well before any journalists arrived. Similarly, during the demonstrations outside the parliament, it was social media users that communicated the spirit of the protests and the discussions that people had. The conventional media were detached from the protests, since they were stationed at a protected ‘buffer zone’ right outside the parliament. Not that they are to blame of course – the moment a cameraman from the TV station ANT1 tried to infiltrate into the crowd, he was booed away. That being said, many journalists were part of the crowd, collecting information and recording attitudes, that later appeared on their employers’ news reports. Twitter was the medium that bridged the gap between the action and the report of that action.
Thirdly, twitter made it possible to get a holistic picture of the events. The example of the expected bank-run is most indicative of this. The conventional news agencies were stationed outside the largest branches of Banks, mostly in Nicosia and some in Limassol. It was twitter users that posted pictures from their local banks all around Cyprus, making it possible to get an immediate and accurate picture of the traffic at banks, exposing in real time the expectation of an immediate bank-run as false.
Another important contribution of social media users is one that I am not sure about, mostly having to do with the role of economists on twitter. The far fetched claim is that the various ideas that economists threw around as brainstroming during the eurogroup meeting, were actually taken into consideration by those in the meeting. I am skeptical about this. In fact I think the role of economists was the only downside of twitter as they created more panic and confusion than anything else (accompanied by self-righteous proclamations of ‘I told you so’). That being said, they were useful in explaining complicated economic terms to people without advanced training the field.
Finally, what makes social media an asset to modern societies is their ability to mobilise people. All the demonstrations were organised using facebook events and were circulated on Facebook, twitter and Google+. This is something that ten years ago would require tremendous effort, time and resources. Now it is free, accessible and as we have witnessed, effective. It is the pressure that social media users put upon elites that make twitter and facebook indispensable tools of modern societies. Public reaction is recorded and political elites realise that their actions create positive and negative impressions.
I am tweeting with the username @iordanou