For Vedantam and Inskeep, the local nature of Twitter is not only notable, but somehow fails to be “democratic,” an analysis that seems unhinged from any useful political theory. But beyond this, there’s a whole social-media news-analysis paradigm reflected in Inskeep’s framing. Twitter here is supposed to exist in another world: a nebulous cyberspace of unbounded freedoms. But most of us already know that the Internet is at best a broken utopia (the only kind we’re ever likely to get).
“Wellman is finding that Twitter isn’t flat,” Vidantam says—as if Tom Friedman’s chimerical “flatness” (the analytic value of which has proven to be nil) is the only possible quality of transformative political agency. In last year’s revolutions, it wasn’t flatness that gave social media its power. It was its hyperlocality, its novel blending of intimate communities and witness at a distance.