How Important Was Social Media in Bringing Down Mubarak?
Probably not a lot, compared with decades of repression, being paid off by the West to the tune of $1. 5 billion p.a. (largely siphoned to the Egyptian military by the US) in order to maintain its acquiescent status as the only “peace partner” Israel has in the region, despite its cavalier attitude in the illegally occupied territories. What is undeniable seems to be the fact that protests across Egypt by a coalition of opposition groups both secular and religious were in some part at least co-ordinated through Facebook.
The Egyptian regime certainly thought so it would seem, immediately blocking Social Media sites and mobile phone networks before pulling the plug on Egypt’s access to the internet. If you believe the Web 2.0 prophets, that should have killed the thing stone dead! The fact that an internet and mobile phone blockade failed in Egypt shows that Social Media as an empowering and motivating force and the genesis of all things is not all it’s cracked up to be! Revolutionary movements are not based on the web – otherwise the repeal of the Corn Laws and Lenin would have failed. They are based on a sense of genuine injustice.
The success of people power in Tunisia and Egypt is the result of actions by varied socially motivated and politically inspired groups , ranging from workers to bloggers and democracy campaigners, to senior judges, members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Coptic Christian groups who have a genuine grievance and have taken to the streets over the past 10 years. What was different this time round was the fact that they all joined forces and Social Media was at least responsible for that degree of co-ordination. Facebook merely facilitated the expression of what was a legacy of protest by many different activist and interest groups, most of which are not organised online and up until recently probably had not been aware of the other’s existence.
The protesters in Tahrir Square used a range of different media to communicate with each other and to get their message across: mobile phones, hand-written placards, graffiti, newspapers and not least al-Jazeera which did that very “old media” thing of “broadcasting” hours of live footage. What the online world provides for revolutionaries is at the very least a safe place to meet, plan, discuss and take decisions. Previous revolutions had to use identifiable physical spaces like bookshops or meeting halls or have somewhere that an underground newspaper was physically produced. Online networks are relatively “safe” from repression in that there is less chance of being discovered and beaten to death! State security forces can monitor internet activists, but there are vast numbers of people online, making it far more difficult for the state to track them all.
Mobile phone use has grown exponentially in the past few years, especially in Africa and the Mid East, reaching around 80% of the population according to recent estimates. Online organisation does not automatically bring people onto the streets of course, but if you get a tweet saying “lets riot” from someone you know and trust, you are much more likely to act on it. What made Social Media (and all other forms media) significant in Egypt (and by implication across the Arab world) was not its motivational, inspirational or organisational power. It was the fact that it was a great channel to communicate and reinforce the simmering belief – the barely expressed aspiration – that popular protest can actually bring down a dictator. So the only role social media played in Egypt was helping to convince Egyptians from diverse classes (but equally familiar with Web 2.0 technology) that enough of them felt the same way and convincing them that they could actually achieve their goal.
The lesson here for any SEO or SEO PR practitioner must be that everything is a “Social Network”. Those networks “create” nothing. But they can reinforce belief in almost anything!