Hi David Ingle, Head of Digital Middle East. Much has been reported of role of Social media throughout the unrest that has been a fact of life across the middle east since the beginning of this year. But, has social media become so powerful that is can topple governmentsI wanted to spend time with you to examine its role and more importantly what we can learn about communications from that period.
Let’s start by looking how the story was coveredWhile In the first instance, its was social media that alerted the world to the fast developing narrative.However, its Al Jazzera’s role in the scheme of things cannot be under estimated. Monitoring the social feeds it was quick to pick up on the situation, understanding the significance of the events unfolding and because if this it broke many news stories over the period, more than its competition. During this period for Al Jazzera online viewing figures increased 2,500% because many broadcasters didn’t carry the channel.
It began with a slap and an insult hurled at a vegetable seller in a small town in Tunisa. It ended with a revolution that shook leaders across the Arab world. Why was this different, he was not the first Tunisian to set himself alight in an act of public protest. Neither was it evident that the protests that began in SidiBouzid would spread to other towns. There had been similar clashes.The key difference in SidiBouzid was that locals got the news out globally. Videos and photo’s shot around the world.
However,it was when police killed protesters in nearby towns that the regional protests became a nationwide uprising.Buoyed by the success of Tunisa, others contemplated if they could achieve the same; first Egypt and subsequently, Libya. The successful action in Tunisia wasn’t the only catalyst for other countries; there needed to be other reason.
The Egyptianrevolution wasn’t born on the streets.Many months before the uprising began in the cities, young Egyptians were creating and joining groups on Facebook, Tweeting, and posting viral videos on YouTube to take the nation’s temperature for change against the injustices in the country.InJune,Khaled Said, a blogger, was arrested and brutally tortured and murdered by the Egyptian police.From that day on, thousands of young Egyptians posted pictures and videos of police brutality Groups began calling on people from all around Egypt to take action.Most of the protestors had never met each other before, but they responded to an online calling
When Saaed's family visited his body in the morgue, his brother snapped pictures of the corpse using his mobile phone.The photo of Saeed's corpse was released onto the internet creating a huge outcry.Saeed’s photograph rapidly went viral, with many Facebook members using it for their profiles.Internationally, Human Rights Watch released a press report about the photo daming the incidencea Facebook memorial page for Saeed attracted hundreds of thousands of followers, becoming Egypt's biggest dissident Facebook page.The Facebook page then became central in organizing the protests scheduled for Jan 25, previously know as Police day, when they would assemble in Tahir square to call for a changes in the way the country is governed.
The people now believed the time was right for change, they had found the reasons, ‘helped by wikileaks’ and they had found a collaborative voice and the world was watching. Many took to the streets carrying mobile phones with cameras and were frequently uploading images of the actions and often in contradiction to the official narrative put out by the regime. Originally all they wanted was greater representation but over time it became a cry for the incumbent president Mubarak to step downHowever, it also was a double edge sword as authorities used social media to try and indentify and target key activists
This could happen because the countries telecom network has broad coverage and connects more the 21 million users to the internet The development of ICT infrastructure across the country enabled the vast majority of the population to connect to new, open information sources and join like minded groups from PC’s and smartphones The populations participation in the situation saw rapid increase in the number of users of social media networks like Facebook
In examining the role of Social media; we can see it played a pivotal role in the coordination & organization of resources. Metcalfe’s law states the value of a commununcaiton network in proportional to the number of connection points within the network. The regime had fewer connections than the masses. Even thought the power of each connection within the regime may had been far greater, the sheer scale of the connectedness amongst the citizenship was overwhelmingSM became the infrastructure for the organization; there were may disparate groups – In cario, alexandria and the other major cities across the country – they needed to communicate
As the organization grew it became like any large-scale operation – in need to strong logistical support. Social media again provided a ready built platform for the organizing the movements of groups, equipment and resources around. Using social media allowed the organisers to overcome distance. They also used social media to make sure they communicated globally – compared to similar revolutions this was connected not only internally but externally. This meant the movement was able to access the world and its range of expertise and knowledge resources
Robust, ubiquitous and flexible communications enabled the movement to function effectively and overcome any challenges. information was shared to help people remain connected to the internet - so the story could continue to get out or what to do if arrested Moreover, it allowed for decentralization of decision making to local communities.. Ultimately it was truly scaleable.
The government decided it needed to shut off internet access on Jan 27thIt had little effect on protestors ability to organize – they just reverted to text messaging, voice calls and world of mouth. It did cut the world off from knowing what was going on in Egypt – many feared that the military would be sent in to break up the protests However, while not disrupting the protestors it did have a terrible impact on the economy – all the banks, financial institutes and stock exchange could no longer trade - billons of Egyptian pounds were wiped off stocks.
While suspending the internet seemed to be a good idea for stopping the use to twitter/face book – the voice system remained intact. Although experiencing challenges with the additional traffic. Protesters who didn’t know each other beforehand, were now connected & basically picked the phone and spoke to each otherThere was growing concern from the rest of the world as to what was going on in Egypt as there was little or no news from the social media platforms apart from messages being relayed by friends and family.
Frustrated by the siutationa group of programmers at Google & twitter kicked off a skunk works project which was completed in one weekend Designed specifically for those on the ground in Egypt unable to communicate via the Internet with the outside world, Speak to Tweet allows anyone with a voice connection to dial three international numbers and have their voice messages sent out as tweets with the #egypt hash tag
The internet was reconnected on Feb 4ththis shows the global twitter conversation shortly after Mubarak completed what was widely expected to be his resignation speech only to hear him say that he would remain in power until a credible alternative had been foundThis is when protest changed further and to become more focused on the only solution - Mubarak’s removal - which followed a few days later.
In all the time the regime failed to learn quickly enough to keep up with the consciousness of its people. It fails to adopt to new technologies. Mubarak did not realize that the accelerating rates of change required that his adminstration focus on being the early adopters of the technology. He relied on dated technology – broadcast TV & radio rather than use internet technology
Viewed from another perspective, the Egyptian revolution can be seen in a similar context to failure of a large corporation to deal with a situation. The vendor – ‘Mubarak’ – failed to understand the market –’ Egyptian citizens’ - and collapsed because he couldn’t adapt quickly enough to the demands of the market – ‘representative governance’. What could he have done differentlyFirstly, they should be listening to the conversation.
Should have used their intelligence to make sense of the situation/conversation – add prespective and remain cool assessing the most appropriate response before engaging
Have the right POLICIES in placeSelected the TECHNOLOGY & people who are going to operate And, make sure they are TRAINED
Ending on a positive note - There has been many lessons learned from the unrest in Egypt that have benefited society on the whole. Even as the world watched the recent disaster unfold in Japan SM proved an effective tool for locating missing people following the arrest of protestors in Tahirsq and was taken to a new level when applied in Japan
Can Social media topple governments – no, not on its own. It clearly provides a conduit for expressing sentiment; mobilsing and coordinating efforts and if unmonitored become instrumental in successful driving a popular public outcome.
HK D2 - Does Social Media have the power to topple governments
Presentation name<br />Demystifying Digital // name<br />Does Social Media have the power to topple governments?<br />