Some Assembly Required

  • Author Theodor H. Nelson states in his book Computer Lib/Dream Machines: “Almost everyone seems to agree that Mankind (who?) is on the brink of a revolution in the way information is handled…” The book was published in 1974. Forty years later, this prediction has become a reality. Social media has forever changed the way information is dispersed, aiding in the broadcast and sharing of material all over the world. This is no where more true or more readily seen than in the Egyptian Revolution, where Facebook and Twitter were used as outlets for the Egyptian people to discuss and debate their grievances, coordinate protests, and share with the world their journey through the Revolution.

 

  • As Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg, authors of the essay “Personal Dynamic Media” state: “’Devices’ which variously store, retrieve, or manipulate information in the form of messages embedded in a medium have been in existence for thousands of years. People use them to communicate ideas and feelings both to others and back to themselves.” While such mechanisms to communicate with others may have existed for many years, they were not as effective in extending messages as Facebook and Twitter are today. With millions of users all across the world using these sites, information can be sent or shared from person to person in a matter of seconds. In the Egyptian Revolution, Facebook and Twitter were the primary couriers of information for the revolutionaries, as these sites provided an effective means of communicating with one another as well as informing the rest of the world of the state of the Revolution.

 

  • The Egyptian Revolution began once the people recognized that enough was enough- that the ever growing police brutality in Egypt was not to be permitted any longer. Egyptians took to social media sites Facebook and Twitter to express their grievances and rally for change. They found an overwhelmingly effective solution to their unbearable problem, which Douglas Engelbart states in his essay “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework,” is because “man’s problem-solving capability represents possibly the most important resource possessed by a society.” In realizing the infinite power of social media to connect people to one another and spread stories, ideas, and dreams of a better Egypt, the Egyptian people were able to come together and bring about the change they so desired.

 

  • Apart from their use in organizing protests and providing live updates from the demonstrations, Facebook and Twitter also played a role in explaining democracy to the Egyptian people. Rasha A. Abdulla, a professor of journalism and mass communications at the American University in Cairo and author of the article “The Revolution Will Be Tweeted” explains that “…social media also played a vital role as a democratic model. Its inclusive space indirectly taught lessons in democracy to a wide sector of Egyptian youth that was not necessarily politically inclined.” Through social media, the Egyptian people were made even more aware of the oppressive state of their government as well as the principles of democracy, so even those who had no formal political knowledge were exposed to the fundamentals of democracy.

 

  • Perhaps the most important Facebook page created in the Egyptian Revolution was the page “We Are All Khaled Said” in memory of Khaled Said, a young Alexandrian man who was brutally beaten to death by police officers. It was the Khaled Said Facebook page that eventually organized the January 25th demonstration that is considered to be the start of the Egyptian Revolution. In her essay, Abdulla outlines the numerous ways the Khaled Said Facebook page

The Khaled Said page, which by then had about six hundred thousand followers, demonstrated its strong ability to organize. They listed all the major squares in every Egyptian governorate where they expected people to gather, and again gave specific instructions on what to wear, what to take with you, and who to contact in times of trouble. They then alerted the users that the listed venues for demonstration would change at midnight on January 24 to give police forces a lesser chance of mobilizing against them the next day. On the morning of January 25, there were close to half a million people who had clicked “I’m attending” the revolution.

  • Twitter also played a major role in the Egyptian Revolution. It was through Twitter that the world was provided with minute-by-minute updates of what was happening during the protests. The world was given a live stream of the events of the Revolution. Abdulla highlights the importance of Twitter through her essay

Twitter played an important though slightly different role. Crucial messages relayed in short bursts of one hundred and forty characters or less made protesters ‘cut to the chase.’ Most activists tweeted events live rather than posting them on Facebook. Twitter was mainly used to let people know what was happening on the ground, and alert them to any potential danger. It usually was ahead of Facebook in such efforts. Twitter also enabled activists to keep an eye on each other. Some managed to tweet ‘arrested’ or ‘taken by police’ before their mobile phones were confiscated. Those words were incredibly important in determining what happened to them and in trying to help them.

Through Twitter, revolutionaries had immediate access to everything happening in the various demonstrations that swept through the country. Twitter became very popular during the Revolution, with tweets regarding political change in Egypt rising from 2,300 tweets per day to 230,000 tweets per day. That number once again rose to over 300,000 tweets when Mubarak dismissed his cabinet. 

 

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