Yesterday, I blogged about what I, along with many others, see as the primary reasons for the Egyptian revolution. In that post I spoke briefly about the role social media has and hasn’t play in the revolution. Discussions in the media regarding social media sites (Twitter and Facebook in particular) seem not only to be rampant but growing. So, let’s talk about Twitter and Facebook.
It would be nice if in their incessant coverage, the media would note the difference between social media leading to or causing the revolutionary activities in the Islamic world and social media being a helpful tool. Twitter, Facebook, et al, have been the Scottie Pippen to the revolution’s Michael Jordan. Not useless, not marginal by any means, but no more than a solid assist. What social media has accomplished, quite successfully I might add, is galvanize shared feelings across nations, regions and the world. Egyptians, and Egyptian-Americans were able to tap into their collective outrage over the beating death of Khaleed Said in the Facebook group “We are all Khaleed Said.” Tweeters have been able to follow journalists, bloggers, activists, and young voices in Egypt and out of Egypt who have been tweeting about the country, the regime, and the outrage of the people for some time. When the US media didn’t begin coverage of Egypt till January 28 (day four of the protests on January 25), Twitter and Facebook were useful in getting voices, messages, pictures, and videos out to the world, a world that was still mostly ignoring the situation.
But to imply, as many have including the revolution’s de facto patron saint Wael Ghonim, that such revolutionary actions would not have taken place if not for social media is, in my opinion, giving such sites too much credit. Mr. Ghonim gave an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” in which he birthed his “Revolution 2.0” phrase, his way of describing youth organization and galvanization in the internet age (and also, rumor has it, the title of the book he’s writing). To be fair, the internet and social media have made a significant difference in how people around the world acquire information and communicate with each other. But Facebook isn’t getting butts in the streets, certainly not for 18 days. Twitter isn’t toppling dictatorships. They are tools to organizing, means of communication, ways of unifying like-minded individuals. The tools intrinsic to social media make revolutions easier and more noticeable, but that’s it.
I look forward to Mr. Ghonim’s book, considering his job as an executive with Google it will undoubtedly weigh the role of the internet fairly. At least I hope it will. But in order to do that Mr. Ghonim needs to be clear on a few things, Facebook has been blocked in Syria and the UAE among many other countries for years. So, how can it lead to revolution? Facebook is great for those outside the region, but in it? Not that much. Twitter and Facebook are fantastic tools for communication, but over-stating their power marginalizes the efforts of masses of people who lack access to these sites yet still demonstrate proudly in the streets of cities across the Middle East.