The role of social media in Egypt

I read two articles (this and this) on the role of social media on what is going on Egypt. The first one is written by Malcolm Gladwell. The second one was written by Egyptian author, Haisam Abu-Samra.

Given what he has written few months ago, it is not surprising that Gladwell is very dismissive about the role of Twitter in Egyptian Revolution. He insists that it is the human voice and the contents, not the medium, that ignites a social revolution. He begins his article by arguing that it is what Mao said, not “how” he said that matters. But if President Hu Jintao starts twitting his thoughts and posting his ideas on his Facebook wall, it WILL be a news. Can you imagine millions of Chinese people replying on his wall with what they think about his idea? It will be even more of a news given that China is blocking Facebook.

The article by Haisam Abu-Samra is far more nuanced and interesting. Here’s what he wrote:

The web is in many ways a more modern, much larger version of the kinds of public spaces and forums that have made citizenship possible throughout history. Losing it for a week didn’t stop Egyptians from protesting or airing their frustrations; we still know how to use physical public spaces, after all. But it did remind us that a forum for the open exchange of words and ideas is central to any sustainable democracy; alternatively, we end up in a perilous cycle of control and chaos. Instead of expressing pent-up opinions with fists and bullets, as is happening now in the streets of Cairo, people who can express them freely in conversation, even in a virtual one, have a chance to hear one another and deliberate together about the future. Never mind the vacant symbolism of “Twitter revolutions” and Youtube activism: losing the Internet at the hand of our own government simply offers us a powerful reminder of why we actually want the Internet to begin with, and why we’re doing any of this.

So the question is, can social revolutions happen without Twitter or other social media in today’s world? Of course, the answer is yes. But are they the same old revolutions? The answer is probably no. A question is how are they different? Can someone explore structural and temporal differences between old political revolutions and SNS-enabled ones? That will make an interesting research project.

Professor | Writer | Teacher Digital Innovation, Design, Organizational Genetics Case Western Reserve University

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