Friday, February 11, 2011

Social Media, Thomas Paine, and Egypt: The Role of Social Media

It is interesting today to see people calling the situation in Egypt a "Social Media Revolution" and at the same time see others carp about this label.  I think people on both ends of the spectrum are equally wrong.  The question isn't whether social media caused the uprising but whether it was important to its success.

No one called the American Revolution the “Printing Press Revolution," but it would have been much more difficult to foment spirit in the colonies had it not been for the latest “social” technology of the era. Thomas Paine was able to distribute 500,000 copies of his pamphlet, “Common Sense,” in a single year, and that was at a time when the population of the 13 colonies was just around 2.5 million widely dispersed citizens. Did the printing press cause the American Revolution?  No, but it's hard to imagine the American uprising without it.

In the same way, it seems impossible to ignore the role of social media in the Egypt revolution. Facebook pages informed and raised anger, Twitter was abuzz with coordinating efforts and YouTube got the word out. It goes without saying that the Egyptian government clearly feared how these tools were being used based on its actions to block access. And it’s important to not overlook the role of social media in providing support from around the globe--the people of Egypt were able to receive important international moral and practical support as people across Earth joined the revolution via social networks.

Social media wasn’t the spark that created the Egyptian uprising—that took years of repressive government and economic inequity. But once that spark hit social channels, the ability to communicate in real time and reach large numbers of people at no cost were most certainly a significant contributing factor in how the Egyptian demonstrations spread and were sustained.

Is Egypt in the throes of a Social Media Revolution?  No, the world is.

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