Last night I posted some thoughts that have been rattling around in my brain about the role of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media/networking sites in the current protests and revolutions in North Africa, the Middle East, and the Persian Gulf. Frustrations that I have had about the US media constantly asking if this is a “Twitter Revolution” coupled with Wael Ghonim’s developing brand “Revolution 2.0″ led me to discuss the need for clarifying the difference between a social media revolution and a revolution assisted by social media.
In my haste to post and my desire to get much-circulated thoughts out of my head, my post over stated some facts. I was correct in noting that Facebook and several blogging sites have been blocked in Syria since 2007. However, as of yesterday most of those sites had been opened up in Syria, though it seems they have been opened in a limited capacity. The UAE has also blocked social networking sites since 2007, though it appears many Emirati have found ways around these blocks, or the blocks aren’t still in effect. Though Egypt ran a tight police state under Mubarak which included internet controls, Facebook accounted for about 42% of all internet traffic in the week leading up to the start of the January 25 movement. By just looking at the amount of Facebook and Twitter traffic in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Bahrain, and Jordan it is easy to posit that such sites have played a significant role in the current situations. This is especially the case given the exceedingly high youth population in these countries (30-60%) and their propensity for social media use. But what has been most notable about these movements is that they aren’t limited to one age group, one social group, one religion. Egyptians toppled Mubarak, not young Muslims. Men, women, children; Muslims and Christians; young and old; employed and unemployed. All of Egypt spoke up. All of Egypt took to the streets.
Social media, social networking, whatever you want to call it, is great for many things. It has provided means of communication for a lot of the world. It’s role in the current uprisings in the Middle East is as a tool of communication, certainly, but more for those outside the situation than in. No one is in the streets protesting their grievances because of Twitter or Facebook. Social media gets the word out. It’s a way to advertise the resistance, but the resistance exists apart from the medium. Period.