Twitter and Tear Gas: part two of our book club’s reading

Our online bookclub is reading Zeynep Tufekci’s Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest.  With this post we discuss Chapters 2: “Censorship and Attention” and 3: “Leading the Leaderless”.

In this post I’ll briefly summarize the text, then add some reflections and questions.  You can participate by writing comments here, or through whichever other means you like (Twitter comments, annotations, etc.).

If you’d like to check out other moments of our discussion of this book, you can find all blog posts and their associated comments filed under

Since last week’s post, we’ve seen some readers sharing thoughts.  PF Anderson was excited about reading along.


The terrain for chapter 2 consists primarily of Turkish politics, including struggles over the Kurdish minority and the Gezi Park protests (2013).   Tufekci tells the story of how a group of Turkish journalists used social media (Twitter as well as Instagram) to bypass governmental and commercial censorship (35ff), as well as the tale of Ekşi Sözlük, a satirical website that became “a hub of participatory free speech” (44).

These techniques enabled the Gezi Park movement.  One case study of their usage describes participants (both local and remote) using a hashtag to organize supplies for Tahrir Square.  Gezi’s success and eventual failure (see this latest) form the basis of some analysis (see below).


Lessons learned from the Turkish digitally-enabled insurgency: attention is key (“oxygen for movements”), and without it movements can die (30).  Digital tools enable political organization at greater speed and with lighter infrastructure than in the past, such as with the American civil rights movement.  They can be used in social forms such as an adhocracy (50-1) or as smartmobs (60; Howard Rheingold, 2003).

Tufekci references her earlier criticisms of  digital dualism and clicktivism, finding authority figures misled by their beliefs in those models of the digital world (44).

The Gezi Park protests had several weaknesses: “tactical freeze” (unable to pivot after inception); not easily providing leadership for negotiation, being leaderless  (71ff).

Tufekci coins the term “network internalities” to refer to “the benefits and collective capabilities attained during the process of forming durable networks” (75).

Technologies: Twitter looms largest in these chapters.  Alongside it are a range of other messaging and light media tools, including Instagram and Viber.  YouTube also appears as an important venue.


  1. How can a movement avoid tactical freeze?
  2. How important are mobile devices in this story?
  3. Has the importance of attention for social movements changed since Gezi Park?

Now it’s over to you!  What did you make of the book so far?

Coming up next week, on December 3: Chapters 4: “Movement Cultures” and 5: “Technology and People”.

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6 Responses to Twitter and Tear Gas: part two of our book club’s reading

  1. PF Anderson says:

    Book hasn’t come yet, but as I read your synopsis, I’m thinking back to Digital Humanitarians, on how Twitter has impacted crisis response. There is a relevant discussion around Arab Spring on pages 130-132, describing aspects of sourcing, verification and validation, authenticity, etc.

  2. Joe Murphy says:

    The parts about the logistical issues involved in large-scale protests reminded me of some recent work out of the Southern Foodways Alliance about the women who provided meeting and dining spaces for the American Civil Rights Movement. There’s a podcast episode on “Hostesses of the Movement” at and a companion article linked from there if you’d rather read than listen. It strikes me that there’s a second form of organizing here – there’s the formal “organizing” of Bayard Rustin and @TahrirSupplies, and then a less formal (but still capacity-building and capacity-enabling) network which cares for the organizers. I wonder what takes the place of this second-level network, as movements become geographically dispersed. As it happens, I did just Friday have a “lunch meeting” by videoconference – but it’s not at all the same as saying “let’s sit for a meal together.”

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      Would that second level network include medical care, Joe?

      • Joe Murphy says:

        Not in the way that medical facilities are constructed at protest sites; that’s “first-level” networking to me. Maybe, in the way that New Orleanians provided each other medical care in the Superdome, or knowing how to get people medical attention away from a protest site itself.

        What I’m thinking of is more like a GoFundMe or a Patreon to help pay an organizer’s or protester’s medical bills. And yet that’s not at all the same at knowing whose house you could lay up sick at if you needed to.

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