Citizen media and the Tbilisi protests

We’ve heard a lot about the use of social networking sites and services such as Twitter and Facebook by political activists in the past week, but opposition protests in Georgia have also shown that they are valuable tools in the hands of student and professional journalists alike.

As an editor for Global Voices Online, a site which monitors and aggregates social media and blogs, had it not been for an online project to report on the protests, as well as the presence of fellow Frontline Club bloggers, things would have been very different indeed.

Despite lagging behind Armenia and Azerbaijan in terms of the quality and quantity of blogs, the work of the GIPA Journalism School in Tbilisi, as well as that of Matthew Collin and Guy Degen, set new standards for the use of citizen media in the region during times of political upheaval.

In contrast, the use of blogs, forums and online video sharing sites in Armenia during last year’s presidential election might have countered government-controlled media, but was just as tainted by misinformation and propaganda. They also pretty much regurgitated or mirrored partisan press reports anyway.

However, the past two days in Tbilisi,has illustrated how the media can be strengthened by such tools in the hands of the right people. Although the international media did cover the protests, it was the GIPA Journalism School blog that was updating readers more frequently online.

In particular, special mention has to be made of Frontline Club blogger Guy Degen who really showed how much power just one man with a mobile phone can wield covering protests live. Using Twitter, Utter, Qik and 12 Seconds, his work was unprecedented in the South Caucasus.

And despite never really understanding what the fuss was about, I finally understood the value of Twitter. Interestingly, given the recent coverage of the use of of the social networking service in Moldova, so too did the Georgian government.

Combined, the use of social networking sites, blogs and online media sharing services meant that it was almost as if I was there on the ground in Tbilisi despite actually being in neighbouring Armenia. It’s also given me many ideas of how to cover the coming municipal vote in Yerevan at the end of May.

Certainly, it’s well worth reading Guy’s post on his mobile reporting kit, and links to many of the posts by all those mentioned above can be found in roundups of the online coverage of the Tbilisi protests on Global Voices Online.

It’s not yet over, of course, and it might be that nothing happens anyway, but it doesn’t matter. The precedent for citizen media tools to be used effectively in the South Caucasus was set. In a region where there is really no independent media, such steps are very welcome indeed.

Day One: Opposition protests in Tbilisi 

Twenty years after clashes with Soviet troops outside the main government building in Tbilisi left 20 dead, the Georgian capital today braced itself for possible problems as the country’s opposition staged its first major rally since the August war with Russia.


Despite some initial concerns about internet access, the GIPA Journalism School Blog has been covering events as they unfold.

[…] link

Day Two: Opposition ultimatum passes

An hour after an opposition ultimatum for Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili to resign went unheeded, reports indicate that thousands of people continue to protest in the country’s capital, Tbilisi. Radiobedniereba’s Blog, a GIPA Journalism School blogger, has more on the latest developments.


However, the number of people taking to the streets is believed to be much lower than yesterday, a national holiday, and expat blogger Wu Wei isn’t expecting them to succeed.


According to Alanaga’s Blog, one of many set up by the GIPA Journalism School especially for the protests, the Georgian president had made that quite clear earlier in the day.

[…] link

More updates will be posted on Global Voices Online if and when any new events occur, but in the meantime it’s worth keeping an eye on the GIPA blog as well as #tbilisi. There are are also updates from Guy Degen on Twitter (text) and Utter (audio) as well as video on Qik and 12 seconds.

Well done to all.