Writing in his new book, Revolution 2.0, Wael Ghonim said that social media armed pro democracy activists against the State’s “weapons of mass oppression”. During last year’s Arab Spring demonstrations in Egypt, the internet was used to keep activist organisers at arms length from security forces.
Ghonim, an Egyptian born Google executive, operated out of the relative safety of Dubai, while he ran his virtual campaign against the Egyptian government. When he did come home to Egypt, prior to the major demonstrations on January 25, 2011, he was promptly disappeared by security forces who isolated him and subjected him to psychological tortures. Google meanwhile campaigned for his release.
Ghonim deployed an array of new media including:
- Email lists to maintain contact with a growing number of activists
- Twitter for quick alerts
- Youtube for videos.
- Online polls to shape priorities
- Skype for organisers’ conferences
- iPhones for mobile postings and video and audio recordings
The internet is not a virtual world populated by avatars. It is a means of communications that offers people in the physical world a method to organise, act and promote ideas and awareness.
Facebook became the primary medium, through a site dedicated to Khaled Said, a 28 year old Alexandrian man who had been beaten to death by the police. The easily updated site which carried graphic images and videos, rapidly attracted a huge following, including many Egyptian expatriates. A posting titled “I wish” attracted 1,689 Likes, 1388 Comments and 440.064 views.
I wish the government would stop treating people as though they were children who could be lied to…As a result the people have lost all trust in government…to the extent that sometimes even good news is met with disbelief and conspiracy accusations…
A recent visit to a Khaled Said Facebook page showed more than two million Likes. The veracity of the Citizen journalism generated by the Facebook site was enhanced by the lack of credibility of the heavily censored mainstream press.
State owned media news coverage, along with the many privately owned Egyptian TV Channels, was incredibly biased against the protesters. A media campaign had clearly been devised by state security officials to mobilise public opinion against January 25. One very famous TV anchor claimed that protesters in Tahir were attacking unarmed police [and] soldiers…while the innocent soldiers were voluntarily carrying fainting protesters to ambulances.
However, social media chatter alerted the international press and the Egyptian demonstrations became a global media event.