Professor Christopher Micklethwait
CULF 3331.10 Fall 2014
4 December 2014
Social Media’s Revolutionary Influence
This semester is my final semester and I was excited to be able to take a class on the Middle East because I feel as though it is a subject I did not get to tap into very much through my time at St. Edwards. When beginning my digital research project, I began to reflect on what stories or themes that were stuck in my brain the most. I kept coming back to Egypt no matter what I did. This section of the course was filled with readings, both historical and personal, that provoke emotion within me. Besides the Syrian uprising, Egypt was one of the most intense Arab uprisings in the middle east. This would kick off my digital project and give me a focus as I began to search for insightful articles.
My nest step was to focus in on a specific topic related to Egypt, and figure out what made this uprising more prominent in my mind. From the very beginning of this class we talked about how the uprising in Egypt was driven largely by the countries’ youth. Because I am a young person myself, I began to fantasize about what it must have been like to have the courage to go up against a regime rooted in so much history and elder influence. In large, the uprising was associated with social media. Social media created a platform for revolting youth, both inside Egypt and out, to communicate the unjust they were seeing on a daily basis. Because Egypt has such a varying demographic as far as religious practice and political ideology, communicating online became a safer way to speak about things that could be shunned in real life interactions. During the 18-day Tahrir Square uprising in early 2011, social networking websites, like Twitter and Facebook, provided anti-regime activists with a tool to organize mass rallies while also providing platforms for articulating political demands. In summarizing my findings, I can create three main topics I would like to discuss and analyze. First, how social media helped kickstart the Egyptian Revolution, the pros and cons of social media in today’s internationally connected world, and what negative effects social media has had for Egypt and the Middle East.
In beginning to discuss how social media helped Egypt uprise, I would like to quote a reading we read for class out of our assigned book called The Battle for the Arab Spring by Lin Noueihad and Alex Warren. In the third chapter, titled “The Media Revolution”, there is a quote from an Egyptian activist named Wael Ghonim. In 2011 Ghonim said, “If you want to free a society just give them internet access because…the young crowds are all going to go out and hear and see the unbiased media, see the truth about other nations and their own nations and they’re going to be able to communicate and collaborate together…Definitely, this is the internet revolution. I’ll call it Revolution 2.0” (Noueihed, Warren 44). After reading this I did more research on Ghonim, who is a 29-year-old Google marketing executive. The article I found, titled “Spring Awakening: How an Egyptian Revolution Began on Facebook”, is about Ghonim’s experience with finding an image sent out via Facebook of Khaled Said. Khaled Said is someone we have read about for class in chapter five of Battle for the Arab Spring, titled “Egypt: The Pharaoh Falls”. During the Egyptian uprising Said was beaten by Egyptian police, his picture was posted and this inspired many, and in this case Ghonim, to take action and help out Egyptian revolutionaries from inside and outside Egypt. Ghonim is Egyptian born, yet he lives in Dubai now, and he was angered by this photo so he decided to create a Facebook page entitled “We Are All Khaled Said”. His page got a lot of traction and he began setting up rallying information. He was eventually arrested by secret police, but his mark was already made. Once information on the internet is out, it’s really out. This is a great example of international out reach through social media that helped Egypt fight the good fight. This type of attitude toward social media and the youth of Egypt is inspirational. It is great to know that young activists recognize their biased media coverage. The internet worked as a free zone to be able to communicate the ugly truth.
Generally social media is thought as a tool for “socializing” or light-hearted conversation, but obviously using the Egyptian Revolution as an example, there are more significant ways it can be used. Scholars have a hard time finding ways to study these types of movements due to the fact that they are unable to effectively find exact origins and conclusions for information. When looking at my topic this way, I believe it’s a way to see social media and its usage as a contemporary world issue. In an article I found about the pro and cons of social media, from ProCon.org, there is a quote about all the benefits social media has on our world. It says, “Proponents of social networking sites say that the online communities promote increased interaction with friends and family; offer teachers, librarians, and students valuable access to educational support and materials; facilitate social and political change; and disseminate useful information rapidly” (“Social Networking” 1). On the pro side of this resource, it also goes into detail about these benefits stating that social networking sites spread information faster than any other media. Social media sites allow people to improve their relationships and make new friends, sites facilitate face-to-face interaction, sites increase voter participation, facilitates political change, is good for the economy, and empowers individuals to make social change and do social good on a community level.
Social media allows for quick, easy dissemination of public health and safety information from reputable sources. Also, social media can help disarm social stigmas, “crowdsourcing” and “crowdfunding” on social media allows people to collectively accomplish a goal, provides academic research to a wider audience, and allows many people access to previously unavailable educational resources (“Social Networking” 1).
On the other side, the more negative effects of social media can include: the spread of unreliable and false information, the lack of privacy exposes users to government and corporate intrusions. Also, criminals use social media to commit and promote crimes, social media can endanger the military and journalists, and sites can facilitate “cyberbullying”. Because all the information on the internet is not credited, sites encourage amateur advice and self-diagnosis for health problems which can lead to harmful or life-threatening results. Also it is often seen that social media aids the spread of hate groups, and because social media posts cannot be completely deleted, all information posted can have unintended consequences like site users experiencing security attacks such as hacking, identity theft, and viruses (“Social Networking” 1).
After learning about the Egyptian Revolution, its use of social media, and how social media’s affects the world on a generic level, I was able to compile my knowledge in order to research farther into the negative effects social media has had on Egypt. In an article titled “In Post-Revolution Egypt, Social Media Shows Dark Side”, from the Inter Press Service News Agency’s website, a story of how more current information on social media sites has tainted the “media revolution”. Egypt’s Supreme Military Council, for example, which ruled the country from Mubarak’s ouster until the election of President Mohammed Morsi last year, continues to issue official statements and declarations via Facebook. However, this article explains that, “The same social networks that activists used in unison to bring down Mubarak are now being used to score short-term political goals, manipulate public opinion, and even incite violence” (Morrow, al-Omrani 1). This website also provides quotes from an interview with Adel Abdel-Saddiq, a social media expert at the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. In a quote from Abdel-Saddiq, he says, “Since the revolution, we’ve seen it [social media sites] used to incite protesters against police, the secular opposition against Islamist groups, and Muslims against Christians and vice versa” (Morrow, al-Omrani 1). He explains that they do this by posting to social media under prominent political figure’s names to provide false information that they hope will ignite violence. The fight to divide Christians and Muslims is strong in Egypt. Abdel-Saddiq blames this dangerous state of affairs on the lack of legal oversight of social media platforms in Egypt, where “laws against libel and slander only apply to traditional media – i.e., television, radio and newspapers – but not to the Internet” (Morrow, al-Omrani 1).
In conclusion, I would like to reflect on the thoughts and questions I have after my research. I believe all dominant perspectives on globalization could benefit from expanding usage of social media. Social media can connect markets, simulate economies, honor culture, create new culture, and intertwine networks or people for the better. Because I have mentioned my struggle with negative aspects of social media in class and experience it on a daily basis, I would like to address the issue of false internet information by asking the question: should social media be regulated by law and or be overseen by national and or international governments or non-governmental groups? I view this as a double edged sword. I feel like the openness of the internet is great, but I also think that have false information perpetually shoved in your face daily promotes apathy towards all types of news, true or not. Having more monitoring means less freedom and more truth? This could possibly be true, but I don’t know if I would agree with lessening my freedom on the internet. Also I would like to know what would these laws and policies would look like and how would they be enforced. Would these potential new laws and policies violate the right to free speech or press? Could these laws only be functional and effective in a democratic society? Does trying to prevent harm via social media, through means of policy, monitoring and consequence, cancel out the benefits of social media seen in examples like the Egyptian Revolution? Questions like these may never have an answer, but I have been able to critically analyze their significance to the future. The internet has globalized our world on a large scale, brought about revolutions and tragedy, and I believe these questions I have about the future of social media will have to be addressed eventually. Whatever the answer may be, I hope freedoms and humanity are not effected negatively.