The Revolutions Were Tweeted: Information Flows During the 2011 Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions

Article Source: International Journal of Communication, Vol. 5, pp.1375-1405, 2011
Publication Date:
Time to Read: 2 minute read
Written By:

 Devin Gaffney

Devin Gaffney

 Erhardt Graeff

Erhardt Graeff

 Gilad Lotan

Gilad Lotan

 Ian Pearce

Ian Pearce



Knowing the roles of writers on Twitter, such as news media or individuals, helps us understand how information spreads.


Policy Relevance:

Various online actors such as news organizations, bloggers, companies, activists, and individuals co-produce news content on Twitter in real time. Knowing how information is disseminated from each type of actor can help us to understand how news spreads, especially in events where up-to-the-minute reports are important such as riots, protests, and natural disasters.


Key Takeaways:

This article examines how information spreads from various actors’ Tweets during the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia by following the information flows (tracing each step in how the story is shared) of similar stories.

  • Hashtags (using ‘#’ before a string of text) are used on Twitter as shorthand for specific news events, and the events can be cataloged by following the hashtags.
  • Examining how often various types of actors (news organizations, bloggers, companies, activists, and individuals) post content, and how often their posts are re-posted by other actors helps us to understand how news spreads.
  • Mainstream news media relate to, rely upon, and distinguish themselves from individuals posting on Twitter during fast-breaking events.
  • Individuals can influence and co-construct the news traditionally produced by mainstream broadcasters using social media such as Twitter.
  • Roughly 70% of the actors Tweeting about the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions were individuals.
  • Organized Twitter accounts such as mainstream media’s and web news organizations’ stories were shared more frequently than individual’s stories.
  • People directly connected to an incident want to know about dangerous conditions and the safety of friends and loved ones.
  • Mainstream media want to learn about events on the ground in order to provide up-to-date coverage.
  • General interest readers want to know about events as they happen.



Mike Ananny

About Mike Ananny

Mike Ananny is Associate Professor of Communication and Journalism at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. He studies how technologies and cultures of media production have the power to shape public life. His research focuses on the public ethics of communication systems, specifically intersections of journalism practice and technology design, the sociotechnical dynamics of networked news infrastructures, and the power of algorithmic systems.

danah boyd

About danah boyd

danah boyd is a Partner Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder of Data & Society. Dr. boyd's research focuses on the intersection of technology and society, with an eye to how structural inequities shape and are shaped by technologies. She is currently conducting a multi-year ethnographic study of the U.S. census to understand how data are made legitimate. Her previous studies have focused on media manipulation, algorithmic bias, privacy practices, social media, and teen culture.