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The myth of the Moldova 'Twitter revolution'

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moldova twitter.jpg

According to the BBC thousands of protesters descended on Moldova's parliament building yesterday to demonstrate against the Communist Party's victory in last Sunday's elections. The protesters are thought to be primarily made up of students and young people who claim the results of the election were fradulent despite being approved by election monitors.


Unsurprisingly you could follow what was happening on Twitter. The key hashtags are #pman (the acronym of Piata Marii Adunari Nationale, the square where the protests were taking place), #Chisinau, and #Moldova.

But a number of commentators claimed that this was the beginnings of the first Twitter revolution and that Twitter had played a "key role in organising the protests".

The Telegraph, for example, jumped straight in with this headline: "Students use Twitter to storm presidency in Moldova". Another Telegraph blog post pointed to this foreign policy piece which claimed that after the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, Twitter "will usher in another revolution in neighbouring Moldova". A TechCrunch post on a similar theme is being retweeted numerous times as I write.

But where's the evidence? Not many of the people who have actually written these and similar articles have bothered to find some tweets that might hint at some kind of organisational role for Twitter:

@Moscovici "Opposition leaders to gather in the main square. Protesters to move from official building to the main square. Chisinau, Moldova #pman

@Ceziceu tomorrow at 10.00 A.M. , 8 april, the protest from Chisinau continues! #pman

But Evgeny Morozov's foreign policy article notes that "there is little to none cellphone coverage in the square itself...so protesters have to leave it to post updates to Twitter via GPRS technology on their mobiles". This suggests that the organisational role of Twitter was not particularly substantial at the scene of the protest.

Indeed, an eyewitness account by Dorina on Kosmopolito.org outlines how difficult it would have been to use Twitter effectively at the protest itself:

"...It was after this altercations that people in the offices that were trying to access different online media sources had really slow connection or could not access the web pages at all. Later on we understood that internet connections were down, local television did not broadcast and the national public television was broadcasting relaxation shows. Also, after 11.30 AM we could not reach protesters from the Square via their cell phones". 

The New York Times has spoken to Mihai Muscovici who said he could provide Twitter updates from Chisinau, the Moldovan capital. But he suggests that the Twitter community in the whole of Moldova is around 100 to 200 strong and there is scant mention of the organisation of the protests at all apart from a rather vague quote the Times has put in at the end of the piece.

But was Twitter used in the original organisational process? It might be worth trying to work out who helped organise the protests in the first place and how they organised it. 

Natalia Morar(i)

A more in depth look at Twitter while reporting on this story might have picked up this LiveJournal blog. The blog belongs to Natalia Morar or Morari, a Moldovan investigative journalist for The New Times, based in Chisinau who was barred from entering Russia in late 2007 and again in 2008. She's listed as one of the members of ThinkMoldova, an organisation that wants to get young people in Moldova to "directly participate in proposing new ideas and take part in the decisions important for their own future and their country".

And after the elections on Sunday, that's exactly what Morar and several others set out to do. (I've used 'Google translate' to help me with her blog in Russian hence accuracy may will not be 100%. If you can help with a more accurate translation please get in touch). Here's how they organised the 'youth initiative' protests according to Morar's blog:

"Six people.
10 minutes for creativity and action.
A few hours of information on networks, facebook, blogs, SMS to friends and e-mail newsletter.
All of the organization - through the Internet.

Even if Google translate has spectacularly let me down, and she does in fact mention Twitter at all somewhere in this post, I would suggest this was a much wider social media campaign. Morar continues:

"On the street came out 15 thousand young people! See the video yourself. And this is just a few hours of information dissemination, without television or other media.
Our initiative group called "I'm not a communist." It includes several non-governmental organizations - our association and organization ThinkMoldova HydePark. Only the young, and no parties.

Our action team announced April 6, the National day of mourning and called on all young people, disagree with the results of elections in the Moldavian Parliament, to arrive at a monument to Stefan cel Mare and light a candle. The application filed by 50 people. It is 15 thousand. They chanted "Down with communists!", "No censorship", "Better be dead than communist!", "We bring change!" After lighting candles, we went across the column to the presidential administration, and then at the national assembly area. Within a few hours of traffic on the main street of Stefan cel Mare was blocked."

She confirmed that on the square "cellular communications" were blocked. Indeed, far from using Twitter she notes that:

"As all has begun to develop quite chaotic, we are immediately on the ground created a youth organization committee and asked all to go away tomorrow, 10:00 am. Today we had one just a megaphone and was difficult to coordinate all actions."

In short, unless you can demonstrate that this blog is not what it seems (possible but looks unlikely to me) or you can find some hard evidence (which may exist) for Twitter's substantive use in these protests other than the establishment of a hashtag #pnam, I'm not convinced that Twitter played a key organisational role.

As it stands, the Twitter revolution is a myth. What happened, and is still happening, in Moldova is a protest organised using social media.


1. Evgeny Morozov at ForeignPolicy.com seems to have qualified his assessment of Twitter's role in the Moldovan protests later in the afternoon after his initial 'Twitter revolution' post. Some good points here though.

2. Dumitru, one of the commenters below, states on his blog that:

"The protests in Chisinau have started because young students were unhappy with the elections stolen by the Communist Party. They have organized themselves through blogs, and social networks like Facebook and Odnoklassniki.ru."

In a comment on Evgeny Morozov's blog Dumitru adds:

"In fact Twitter did not play that big role. The story is quite simple - young and active bloggers decided to have a flash-mob action, lighting candles and "mourning Moldova" because of Communists victory, which nobody recognized due to the multiple violations before and during the campaign. They agreed on the time and place of the action through the network of Moldovan blogs (blogs aggregator blogosfera.md), and social networks like Facebook/Odnoklassniki, etc."


anonymous1 | April 8, 2009 7:11 AM

there are myths on both sides, but you'd better do your homework. very few people who would join the protests in Moldova use LiveJournal to communicate - that's where Morari wrote - this is a platform that is very popular in Russia (hence Morari's use of it, since she has a much more visible profile in Russia than she does in her home country), but not in Moldova itself. Plus, she mainly targets a Russian-speaking audience - who would likely support the communists anyway - so no need to get them into action. Finally, what you should really be looking at is the use of Twitter by people who organized the first wave of flashmobs on Monday - this is how it's all got started. Of course, a community of 100 Twitterers is not enough to bring 10,000 people in the streets, but it's enough to bring at least 100 - and others would follow.

adyrip1 | April 8, 2009 8:37 AM

The situation is critical. The present communist regime stole a lot of votes. Dead people voted, mentally challenged people voted ( OSCE observers stated that if they have an ID it is ok to vote ), some people voted several times, people arrived at the voting centres and found out that they had already voted!!!!! A real shame for the US and EU as they always talk about democracy but never move an inch unless they have an oil interest. Imagine living with 200 USD/month like the people in Moldova. Let's just hope they do not send the army to shoot the crowd. Most of them are students. The borders are closed, they shut down mobile phones, internet and everything possible to keep this quiet. In a lot of cities from Moldova the people are demonstrating against the regime. Help them!!!! Spread the news. This is a real revolution for a country which has been persecuted for a long time. It was taken from Romania by Stalin and never returned. Now the people are tired with the russian controlled government.

Julien | April 8, 2009 8:38 AM

If it were social media, I'd say it were rather social networks like Facebook. I saw messages from Moldovan contacts the evening before asking to gather for the first meetings on Monday.

evisoft | April 8, 2009 8:59 AM

Initial organization, was spread over twitter and facebook, and expected only few persons.

Later we agree to create #pman to spread about this event over the world, and use facebook for photos, and youtube for videos.

Twitter was not used to manage manifest. Also cellphones works bad only few hundred meters. Also near was McDonnalds with free wifi.

derek thomson replied to comment from evisoft | April 8, 2009 10:00 AM

Hi Evisoft, I'm a reporter for FRANCE 24 in Paris, looking for people to talk to about the protests and Twitter. Can you email me?


derek thomson


P.S. Apologies for using your blog like this Daniel. Excellent post. We'll think twice before repeating the Twitter headline.

Steve Jackson | April 8, 2009 10:56 AM

I think the truth seems to be somewhere in between. When you're publicising anything you're looking at all the tools you have available to spread the word.

In this case, mostly it would appear that it would be word of mouth. But, hey, why not use blogs, and Twitter and whatever else you can use when your budget is next to nothing? Social media, like word of mouth - is viral. It may go nowhere or it may grow and grow and that is what you hope for.

Twitter is easy for reporters to sell to newsdesks right now. It's guaranteed a readership too because us twitterers will retweet and retweet again.

However, Twitter, it seems, played a genuine role - but yes, only a slight one. A role certainly not worthy of the headlines created.

However it is thought provoking. If a country with limited wealth and access technology can utilise these tools albeit in a smaller way than is being reported - imagine what could happen in more affluent regions.

I think that is the underlying story that no doubt the commentators will return to once the dust is settled and we realise that this is no Twitter revolution but social media did play it's part.

Dumitru | April 8, 2009 12:03 PM

I have been posting pics and updated comments in English for the last two days - if you are interested - http://politicalmoldova.wordpress.com/

zerolab | April 8, 2009 1:32 PM

As evisoft stated, Twitter was used for the initial organization and consequent spread of information. Add facebook statuses tied to twitter updates and a few other means like SMSes, word of mouth, LiveJournal.

There is no doubt about Twitter's role on starting/organizing the protests, but they've evolved into something bigger and way too hard to coordinate anything.