My blog this week is about the use of the Internet in mobilization for political change. For example, during the recent political uprising in Egypt, technology (the use of the internet, specifically social media networks) impacted the riots. The government tried to shut down the internet upon realizing the threat of revolution was imminent. It didn’t work. According to The Egyptian Experience: Sense and Nonsense of the Internet Revolution, “The communications shutdown in Egypt neither stopped the protests, nor prevented protesters from communicating with the outside world” (Aouragh & Alexander 1). The authors contend that “user-generated and social network applications became tools [sic] of revolution” (2). They suggest that the internet not only aided the revolution, but it was the instrument for the revolution to proceed. It became the impetus where people who shared the same views on what was happening in Egypt could meet. It fueled an already growing dissidence among the younger population, the ones most likely to use social media. Popular social networking sites such as Facebook propagated political discussion where “opinions were shaped … and decision(s) were taken” (5). Sites such as Facebook provided the tools to interact and gauge support for change or, as the authors contend, were instrumental in “widening (the) ripple in the water” (5). Facebook was growing at an alarming rate, with 600,000 new users in January and February of 2011 alone. It became the meeting place for dissidents. Here, they forwarded emails, tweets and posts, thus increasing awareness as well as help in mobilizing the protesters.
One of the people the authors interviewed—Hossam El-Hamalawy, an Egyptian journalist—said that when the government banned Twitter, he was still able to login “in via a proxy in order to disseminate the news about the protests” (6). And Twitter was an effective tool for the activists with 1.5 million Egypt-related tweets within a week after the January 25 uprising.
It’s ironic that the internet shutdown actually fueled the revolt. As Egyptian blogger Haisam Abu-Samra wrote, “Cutting us out from the rest of the world … didn’t dismantle the revolt. If anything, it removed distraction and gave us a singular mission to accomplish” (7). The activists actually saw this as a sign that the regime felt threatened and it, in turn, empowered the people further. I think Amr Gharbeia, an Egyptian blogger and human rights researcher, succinctly summed up the use of social media tools during the revolution when he said that we are the social network, not the social media tools. He said, “Turning off the technology doesn’t turn off the social network, because it is about people, not about technology” (8).
Aouragh, Miriyam & Anne Alexander. “The Egyptian Experience: Sense and Nonsense of the Internet Revolution.” International Journal of Communication 5 (2011): 1-8. Print.