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The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, set off by social media, have inspired protests in Bahrain, Libya, Iran, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen, Jordan and even faraway China.
The protests have been spurred by extensive use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, which are seeing their moment in the sun as the tools of revolution. They’re unleashing movements for peace, democracy and freedom in a region of the world that seemed like it was content to live without them. It should be a sobering moment for the creators of social media, who may or may not have created them so they could get better dates with the opposite sex. It may very well be that they have created something that is beyond their original visions for changing the world.
We can sort out just how much credit social media gets for spurring the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia and the January 25 revolt in Egypt. But some folks have no doubt about the role played by a Facebook group, “We are all Khaled Said,” named after a man who was beaten to death by Egyptian police. The New York Times also credits cell phones and their ability to upload video and pictures depicting military crackdowns on protesters for helping to galvanize the protests. Journalists are covering the events, but protesters themselves are able to directly broadcast the events to the world. In Libya, the foreign press is relying almost exclusively on citizen reporters for their eyewitness accounts.
In Egypt, a proud parent named his first-born Egyptian daughter “Facebook” in a tribute to the role that the social network played in organizing the protests that led to the overthrow of the Mubarak government. Egypt has an estimated 5 million Facebook users, with 32,000 new groups and 14,000 pages created in the two weeks after Jan. 25. The new military government is also reportedly using Facebook to reach out to Egyptians.
If social media has ever had its greatest moment, it’s now. It shows that the power of the network effect can work in political revolutions just as it does in other parts of our lives. Social media has become like the lever that opens the doors that stand in the way of freedom. As TechCrunch’s Alexia Tsotsis noted, the internet as a whole should win the Nobel Peace Prize this year.
The Wall Street Journal reported that smart dictators don’t quash the internet, and that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s biggest mistake was bringing the country to a standstill by shutting down its internet access. (The dictators probably shouldn’t mow down protesters by the hundreds either, as that only spurs larger protests.)
In Bahrain, YouTube videos show the consequence of the army’s attempt to quell the protests by opening fire. (Pictured right, and below).
In China, authorities should be getting nervous. Calls for a Jasmine Revolution in China have spurred a big crackdown on gatherings in the authoritarian country. The words “Jasmine revolution” were blocked on Twitter-like services in China, but some users had figured out ways to talk about protests using code words.
But China has proven adept at beheading any protest movements quickly and cracking down on speech on the internet when it perceives a threat. That may be why the protests have been small so far.
The Wall Street Journal correctly notes that “triumphalism about the recent events in the Middle East is premature. The contest is still in its early stages, and the new age of internet-driven democratization will endure only if we learn to counter the sophisticated measures now being developed to quash it.”
Hopefully, when this Egyptian girl gets old enough to care about it, she’ll be able to change her name. It is indeed amusing to think that American parents want their kids to stop using Facebook so much, while someone in a faraway country thinks so highly of the service that they name their child after it.
[photo credit: European Pressphoto Agency]
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