By Gordon Adler
We recently witnessed history being made in Egypt. But the role of the Internet, particularly social media, remains unclear – wild generalizations litter the blogosphere. Was it really Revolution 2.0?
There’s some truth in every analysis I’ve heard: social media enabled the revolution, propelled and accelerated it, but protestors would have toppled Mubarak without the Internet. The killer app was people demanding their freedom. And so forth.
In a well-known New Yorker piece, Malcolm Gladwell claimed that social media – Facebook and Twitter – can’t create the strong bonds social activism requires. “People with a grievance will always find ways to communicate with each other.” So maybe Facebook and Twitter are useful tools, but not the tools of revolution.
Maybe the tools of the Egyptian revolution are the Egyptian people themselves. Maybe if Mubarak had been forced to step down five years ago, we would have been celebrating the power of cell phones.
But then again, maybe the Egyptian protests were not only a Facebook event, but an Internet uprising. As a post from the communications Edelman Digital suggests, if the Internet didn’t matter, why did Mubarak’s cronies pull the plug?
Until the fiber optics went dark, the Internet served as a kind of communication cloud – where the cell phones, satellite phones, land line phones, fax machines, Facebook and other tools like Google and Twitter’s collaborative phone-to-twitter application Speak2Tweet basically created a huge flashmob (some say eight million) on Cairo’s streets.
Maybe we need to see the social media, not as the cause of the revolution, but as the accelerator. The propellant. The leaflets of the 21st century.
One thing is sure: social media made the events in Tahrir Square into an international public spectacle. This increased pressure on the Mubarak regime. And empowered those with their feet on the ground near idling tanks.
Another thing is sure: Facebook and Twitter have become one of the ways many people communicate. Twitter has 600 million users. The Internet has an estimated 2 billion users. We should have been surprised if social media had not been used.
If you were amazed by the apparent power of social media in Egypt, you should be asking what took us so long to open our eyes. Grade school children wouldn’t be surprised!
All the arguments I’ve heard are probably right – in some degree. Twitter and Facebok probably helped. They weren’t the only fuel. And certainly not the cause. I’m betting the revolution would have happened without the tools. But the tools are here to stay.
As I write this, images of protesting Libyans fill my TV screen. “Khaddafi out” read the signs on the videos uploaded from mobile phones. Keep your eyes on Libya, Iran, Oman, Jemen, Bahrain. We need more facts. In the meantime, events we thought impossible now seem possible.
is member of the facutlty at the Lorange Institute of Business.
He is the managing director of Adlerway, his communications and consulting company.