I heard Wael Ghonim speak at the Dublin Web Summit last week, and before he’d finished talking I’d purchased the Kindle edition of Revolution 2.0; the power of the people is greater than the people in power – his memoir of the uprising in Egypt.
About a day after the conference I’d finished reading it, and I’m still thinking about it. It’s the story of a growing political awareness of the author, a revolution in a country that had had the same ruler for decades, and the huge power unleashed by social media.
Ghonim applied his marketing skills to build a following by;
- making sure he connected with similar groups to build momentum,
- using the language of his audience (the language of Egyptian youth rather than formal Arabic)
- asking the community for their input, and acting on it
- including and linking to content from similar sources
- integrating online and offline by promoting and supporting other protests including the silent stands
His account also points to some online dilemmas, although the Internet started out with the possibility to remain anonymous, that’s not really the case any more and Facebook requires a real person to be behind admin accounts. But if you’re inside a country where the state of emergency has existed for decades or where the state security machine is active against dissidents you want to remain anonymous. Ghonim countered this by having a supporter based in the US listed as the real person, while a small group of activists had the password to the admin account. He also discusses some tools used to disguise where you’re posting from. I suspect that government security teams around the world will study Ghonim’s book, and the relevant social media accounts in order to be ready for the next revolutionaries using social media.
It’s very much an “on the ground” account.The writing is raw, it was written quickly so that the launch would co-incide with the 1year anniversary of the 25 January protest, and as he concedes at the end of the book, outcomes are still unclear.
There is much discussion around the impact social media has in a revolution, is it the beginning of a brave new world? Yes, and no.
Yes – for two reasons; firstly, it enabled smaller disparate groups to connect and start to see the scale their actions could have. Secondly, at least initially, social media took the place of a free press, reporting – almost in real time – the events on the ground. This reporting went global thanks to Egyptian expats who translated some of the content, countering the official press accounts.
No – at a certain point, probably around the first large scale protest on Tahrir Square on 25 January, the real world took over. Without this the social media conversations could be ignored or dismissed by the government.
Social Media acted as a catalyst, sparking a revolution. But it was the men and women on the streets who made the revolution, without their courage to act it was a theoretical discussion.
I was left with deep admiration for the author, for taking his commercial skills a dose of courage and building a foothold for the revolution. A sadness for all those families who lost someone in the revolution, and hope. Hope that the future is brighter.