The Powerful Effects of Social Media in Egypt

March 10, 2011

Guest post by Thomas Morrison.

Social media is no longer simply about allowing your friends to see what you are thinking or for posting photos of your family vacation to Aruba. Social media has quickly become the most influential factors in grassroots socio-political organization. The January 25 revolution in Egypt gained a major foothold as a result of social media tools like Facebook and Twitter. Individuals have used social media to increase government transparency and mobilize like-minded individuals.

Twitter and social media played a big role in Egypt's revolutionOn January 25 2011 after a successful revolution had occurred in Tunisia, many Egyptians took to the streets protesting government corruption, unemployment, poverty as well as the country’s 30 – year autocratic rule by former President Hosni Mubarak. Protesters used social media like Facebook and Twitter to show outsiders exactly what was happening on the ground, plan and arrange protests and the governmental and military response to the protesters. After the second day of mass protest in Egypt, and after Associated Press filmed an Egyptian activist and protester being gunned down, the Internet, texts messages and PDA access to the Internet was shut down by Egyptian government.

The government’s effort to seriously reduce communication within Egypt was unsuccessful as a series of transnational human rights activists, bloggers, translators and social media organizations dedicated to free speech used many different mediums to stay in touch.  Egyptians used chat rooms, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to relay messages from protesters, journalists and human rights activists inside Egypt.  All of whom had intentions of assisting activists inside Egypt to further political organization and social mobilization while also allowing the rest of the world to witness minute by minute news on just exactly what was going on inside of the country.

Two of the most valuable aspects of social media are its ability to make social organization easier and more effective. The social media used by Egyptian protesters not only allowed individuals who shared common political ideas come together, but also provided a medium to plan concrete action. Secondly, social media increases government transparency and accountability. No longer can the global audience be kept in the dark about what is going on in another country. There are too many interconnected individuals using social media creating a transnational network armed with information.

On February 9th former President Bill Clinton spoke at New York University. The president was speaking on the Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the 1995 Bosnia, Herzegovina and Serbia genocide and war. President Clinton compared the use of constant news media in the case of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Genocide with the role of social media in aiding communication during the recent revolution in Egypt. While the former president said the constant news coverage during the Bosnia-Herzegovina Genocide is nothing close to the effect of social media used in Egypt, both captured global attention at different points in time as a result of the desire for information. Clinton reflected back on the type and quality of technology available when he was president in 1995 saying, “There were just 50 Internet sites and the average cell phone weighed 5 pounds”. Alongside personal counselor Doug Band, Clinton heads up the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI). Mr. Douglas Band also oversees plenty of foreign operations at the Clinton Global Initiative.

While the Bosnia Herzegovina genocide and the recent revolution in Egypt are to completely separate events with not much similarity in politics or history, the human desire for information is very much the same. At many points in history individuals have combined ingenuity, passion and technology so as to link themselves with people and societies far from themselves.

Thomas Morrison is a co-edior of Everything Left and writes on a variety of current topics. You can find him on Twitter at @twmorrison75.

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2 Responses

  1. Couldn’t agree more with this statement, “the human desire for information is very much the same” – it’ so true. The effect that social media has had is hard to measure, but we sure know it when we see it. Nice post.

  2. Tom 

    Thanks Frank. No one deserves to live under the thumb of a dictator. It’s wonderful that social media was able to topple an autocrat. Let’s now hope and pray though that the system which replaces Mubarak is a step toward greater freedom, not merely authoritarianism by another name as in Iran.

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