Did Social Media Remove a Dictator?

Social and peer pressure has long been known to cause change.  But if  you still believe there is no real power in social media, one post at a  time, one hashtag per thought, you have not been paying attention to  the debate about the Egyptian Revolution.  And, although Hasni  Mubarak could oppress and dictate the lives of Egyptians as well as,  try to block the chatter among Internet users, he could not stop the  Revolution that brought down his dictatorship of 30 years.

Certainly no social media revolution can succeed without a pervasive desire for change.  Egyptians wanted to stop the oppression.  Their cries struck emotional cords and allowed people their individual voices.  This Revolution, much like President Obama’s campaign and the peaceful transition of power in Tanisia, became a collaborative outcry of brave, committed people whose physical presence created change in a country.

On January 27, two days following the beginning of the peaceful protest in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Mubarak shut down the Internet in an attempt to squelch the swelling crowds.  A young Google employee from Cairo named Wael Ghonim was arrested on January 28 and secretly detained until February 7 — he was the then-anonymous founder of the “We Are All Khaled Said” Facebook page and initially called for and organized the January 25 protest.

The “We Are All Khaled Said” Facebook Page mission states:  “Khaled Said, 28 years old, was tortured to death by 2 Egyptian Policemen in the street. The incident has woken up Egyptians to work against the systematic torture in Egypt and the 30 years running emergency law. We need international supporters to help us stand against Police brutality in Egypt. We invite you to support our cause.”

The Egyptian nation is a country of 82 million people.  Techcrunch http://techcrunch.com/2011/02/11/feb11/

reports that there are around 17 million Internet users, 60 million cell phone subscribers, 7 million home phones, and 5 million Facebook users that essentially created the largest flashmob ever, with around 8 million protesters in the streets across Egypt, according to reports. Dozens of other countries, hearing the online pleas from Egyptians, gathered in their own country’s streets to rally support for the protestors in Tahrir Square.From posting videos on YouTube, to using PhotoShop to create symbolic logos for the opposition, to using Facebook to organize protests, the events of the 18-day siege undoubtedly played out online.

According to NPR, organizers promised one another that they would each bring at least ten non-connected people they knew to the protests. They even agreed on messaging tactics in advance. In order to better succeed at recruiting poorer, less-educated Egyptians to join them, they focused on economic issues as a rallying cry, not torture.

NPR further reported that the fact that everything was very organized from the beginning made people feel safe and more willing to participate.  It was not a random or spontaneous upheaval; it was well planned and organized. This web-based planning was critical, given that the vast majority of people on the “We Are All Khaled Said” page — and those who entered the streets on the 25th — were not veteran human rights activists and bloggers.

Jeff Jarvis, who blogs about media and news at Buzzmachine.com, authored What Would Google Do? (HarperCollins 2009), is associate professor and director of the interactive journalism program at the City University of New York’s new Graduate School of Journalism, has this to say about the Internet and how we can and should use it:

http://thefastertimes.com/mediaandtech/2011/02/13/facebook-twitter-and-the-egyptian-revolution/

1.         We have a right to connect.
2.         We have the right to speak.
3.         We have the right to assemble & act.
4.         Privacy is a responsibility of knowing.
5.         Publicness is a responsibility of sharing.
6.         Information should be public by default, secret by necessity.
7.         What is public is a public good.
8.         All bits are created equal.
9.         The Internet shall be operated openly.
10.       The Internet shall be distributed.

Of course, the Internet did not create this or any other revolution.  In fact, it creates nothing but a way to share, to listen and to be heard.  Whether we want to revolutionize ourselves, our business or our passions, the Internet is a powerful tool for each of us to use.