February 12, 2011
It is being claimed throughout Google News that the fireworks that lit Cairo’s skies and the joyous tears of the protesters that ended 30 years of despotic power of President Hosni Mubarak, is all down to Facebook.
On Friday, President Hosni Mubarak stepped down as Egypt’s after widespread anti-government demonstrations. The country is now in the control of the armed forces. US President Barack Obama called Egypt an “inspiration”, and said that “Egypt will never be the same again”.
However, the advocates of social media quickly claimed victory for themselves, in that social media had “helped build an international community of support for the Egyptians” and was somehow instrumental in bringing about an end to Mubarak’s presidency.
Wael Ghonim, Google’s marketing manager, led the charge with: “They lied at us, told us Egypt died 30 years ago, but millions of Egyptians decided to search and they found their country in 18 days,” he wrote on Twitter, while a New York City-based digital strategist opined that: “Social media was a driving force in the revolution.” Apparently, Mr Ghonim dubbed it “Egypt 2.0″ in a cliche delivered in an interview to CNN.
Meanwhile, CompterWorld chimed in with the headline: “How Facebook Toppled Hosni Mubarak” and that in a battle with the dictator of the largest nation in the Middle East, “it took Facebook 18 days to help topple the Mubarak regime in Egypt”.
But doesn’t this sound all too obsessive? Not according to some, as ComputerWorld continued with its ruminations: “The significance of social media isn’t lost among political and military observers, as Facebook served as the key tool used by protesters to organise huge, effective protests.”
In another article from the same source, it seems as if another writer held the voice of the opposition to these far-flung claims in: “Is the role of social media in Egypt being overstated?” In this article he went on to explain that Facebook in Egypt is extremely small, about 5.2 million users, or less than 7 out of every 100, while only about 31% of Egyptians who have internet access have a Facebook account. So, a minority of educated Egyptians changed the face of a nation and brought about democracy. Hardly.
I had always thought that Facebook was merely a communications tool and not one that can claim to be the mastermind behind toppling repressive regimes. And while social media certainly played a dissenting role in disseminating information on the end of the Mubarak era to the rest of the world, and amplified what was going on, the idea that “the combination of Facebook, Twitter and mobile phones left Mubarak and his security forces powerless to stop the protests,” is simply too fantastic a statement to take it seriously.
Mr Ghonim, perhaps, was in a state of fevered intoxication when, in a conversation with CNN he claimed that, “Social media brought democracy, at least for now, to Egypt.” Democracy? But Egypt is in the hands of the military, if the mainstream media have any right of voice in this.
Robert Fisk, a staff writer for The Independent newspaper, who has been covering Egyptian political affairs since 1976, writes: “History may later decide that the army’s lack of faith in Mubarak effectively lost his presidency after three decades of dictatorship, secret police torture and government corruption.” He continues: “The chains which bound the military to the corruption of Mubarak’s regime were real. Are they to stand by democracy – or cement a new Mubarak regime?…As yesterday afternoon’s events proved all too clearly, it was the senior generals – who enjoy the luxury of hotel chains, shopping malls, real estate and banking concessions from the same corrupt regime – who permitted Mubarak to survive.”
Predictably, Mashable weighed in with: “Egyptian president steps down amidst groundbreaking digital revolution” and led into the piece with: “From the beginning, the revolution in Egypt was propelled by the use of social media…Subsequently, the government blocked Facebook and Twitter and eventually shut down internet access completely…For perhaps one of the first times in history, history itself has been recorded instantaneously, as reporters took to Twitter to share 140-character updates…Images of the turmoil spread around the world via Flickr and Youtube, too. Al Jazeera made its images available by a Creative Commons license and its work reached an even broader audience around the world.”
Well, perhaps, but the claims that social media has somehow usurped this tyrant and brought “democracy” to the Middle East, sounds to me just quaintly absurd.
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