Egypt has been the major news-maker for the last two weeks as protests continue in an attempt to unseat President Mubarak. My favorite comment on Mubarak’s refusal to leave office now is Neal Pollack’s joke: “Denial is a dictator in Egypt.”
Other than concern for the impact on U.S. foreign relations (obviously), a lot of attention had been drawn to the fact that, in an effort to quash the resistance early on, Internet and cell phone access was blocked in the country. The only means of obtaining information within Egypt was by through television or radio reports; the only means of sharing was in person, with the exception of those who figured out how to mask their IP addresses and subvert the censorship (a People’s Revolution can always use crafty programmers).
Earlier this week, one of WordPress’s Freshly Pressed items was Matthew Ingram’s article, “It’s Not Twitter or Facebook, It’s the Power of the Network” (on Gigaom), written in response to the skepticism of the power of online social networks in situations like these, and more specifically Jon Stewart’s comment on the Daily Show how he doubted that Twitter had any key role in the protest. Although, Ingram first has to sort out the argument that no one is claiming that these online network cause revolutions (a social analyst should never argue cause!), he defends the power of these kind of peer-to-peer networks to both effectively organize and disseminate. And I’m not just talking about getting Betty White to host Saturday Night Live.
Back in grad school, we had heard about something similar: protesters against President Arroyo in the Philippines mobilized through something as simple as text messaging. Ingram points to WikiLeaks as a more recent example of what can happen in the unadulterated realm of interactive communication networks (which, not surprisingly, has even been deemed a threat in the United States… thanks very much to departing dickhead, Senator Joe Lieberman). But, as Ingram notes, even a Kill Switch could be (and was) averted. But, in general, the lack of these technologies — the Internet and cell phone access — has begged the question: how do people effectively organize these days without it? If you’re referring to Americans, it may make sense, given how political “action” has been reduced to the easiest, least obtrusive means possible. As in tapping on a keyboard or clicking on a mouse. But nothing really comes of it; there is very little sense of solidarity (at least on the left) and we are content to simply complain. But elsewhere, the culture is different and that question really undermines the people involved, and their motivation for action. That’s like saying, how do people turn off a TV when there is no remote?
The whole world is watching Egypt now, though partly because you can’t get anything else on the news other than melodramatic reports about harsh winter weather. Mubarak has since made one concession, agreeing not to seek re-election in the fall, but with the Prime Minister already offering a feeble apology for yesterday’s violent retaliation against protestors and the following warning by the military that they cease protests, it is probably an empty promise anyways.
On a related note, my old grad program posted to their Facebook page a link to an article about the latest attempt to paint Facebook users as something akin to the mindless zombies hooked on frozen food in The Stuff. Won’t somebody think about the children?!! This being an article about a 21 year-old woman who plowed down her cousin with her car because of some feud over a guy that of course played out on Facebook. Grad Program asked: what are the consequences for social networking? Sensationalism and paranoia? Before this, there was an article about a Colorado woman so addicted to Facebook, she failed to notice her son was drowning in the bathtub. Of course, that’s leaving out a few details (see Cracked.com’s post, “5 Terrifying Online Trends (Invented by News Media)”). Because before Facebook, it was Craigslist. And before that, it was MySpace. And before that, it was Ted Nugent.