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Egypt - history's first "Facebook revolution"?


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Are we witnessing Revolution 2.0 spreading throughout the globe, enabled by mobile technologies and social networking?

Viewpoint by Giuseppe Lugano published on Helsinki Times 9(

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Egypt - history's first "Facebook revolution"?

  1. 1. 2 3 – 9 MARCH 2011 VIEWPOINT HELSINKI TIMESViewpoints are commentaries written by experts and authorities about specific topics. You can submit your articles to Articles should be at least 5,000 characters with spaces-long (maximum length 10,000). Helsinki Times reserves the right to accept or reject submissions, as well as to edit or shorten the text. Giuseppe Lugano received his Master’s degree in comput- er science from the University of Bologna and PhD in cognitive science from the University of Jyväskylä. He has expertise on mobile social networks and the design of sustainability ICT solu- tions, with his own research focusing on digital technologies in everyday life. “generation txt” managed to coordinate a smart mobi-Egypt – history’s first “Facebook revolution”? lisation of people with the same objective through the simple forwarding of text dia to achieve social change. self. It was here where Wael messages. Already in 2008, the Face- Ghonim, internet activistAre we witnessing Revolution 2.0 spreading throughout the globe, book group “April 6 Youth and Google’s head of market- SOCIAL media thereforeenabled by mobile technologies and social networking? Movement” had 70,000 ac- ing for the Middle East and played a key role in the tive members, most of whom North Africa, made a famous Egyptian revolution, es- were young, educated and address to the crowd: “This is pecially in its first phase,THE POPULATIONS of North in a relatively short period movements, political pow- had no previous involvement not the time for individuals, but the notion of history’sAfrica and the Middle East of time, because it entails er and communication net- in politics before joining the or parties, or movements. first “Facebook revolution”are writing a new, impor- “a more or less rapid fun- works. They identified three group. In June 2010, the kill- It’s a time for all of us to say seems far-fetched. Indeed,tant chapter of their nation- damental social, economic main aspects of added value ing of 28-year-old Khaled just one thing: Egypt above a true social-media revolu-al histories. On 14 January and/or cultural change, dur- that the internet and wire- Said by the Egyptian secu- all.” Ghonim’s personal ex- tion would not merely con-the Tunisian President Ben ing or soon after the struggle less communications enabled rity police offered momen- perience turned him into sist in the use of such toolsAli, in power since 1987, had for state power”. Although in the process of political mo- tum for the revolution: the one of the icons of the Egyp- in planning and coordinat-to step down after weeks of the causes, decisive factors bilisations. First, mobility al- Facebook group “we are all tian revolution: in fact, he ing political protests, but es-street demonstrations and and starting/ending dates lows reacting instantly – in Khaled Said”, which was cre- was arrested by the author- pecially in the creation andcivil unrest. Nine days later, of each revolution cannot be a variety of manners – to ated in his memoriam, rap- ities and spent 11 days in de- development of a new dem-a massive crowd of Egyptian unambiguously identified, its events that are of common idly became an active forum tention. During and after his ocratic and participatory po-protesters started demand- new ideas, values or unique concern. This creates the for planning and coordinat- release, Ghonim’s followers litical model. Furthermore,ing the overthrow of their features are often described perception of “spontaneity” ing protests. Today, it has al- on Twitter grew to more than it has been described howpresident, Hosni Mubarak, by a motto. The essence of of an emerging movement. most 100,000 members and 90,000. already 10 years ago net-who had ruled the country the French revolution is in Second, mobile devices pow- continues to be a key refer- worked citizens sketchedsince 1981. On 11 February, the words “Liberté, Égalité, ered by internet connectivity ence for political activists. ALTHOUGH the dynamics and developed, throughafter 18 days of protests and Fraternité”, which for many make it easier to join forces of the events in Egypt seem SMS and almost in real time,hundreds of deaths, Mubarak represent the foundations of by means of social network- IT HAS been argued that a Fa- to be unique, they present the script of the revolution.resigned. modern Western societies. ing with trusted peers and cebook revolution is a lead- some parallels with the Peo- Therefore, I agree with Cas- like-minded people. Third, erless revolution. Although ple Power II revolution of tells and his colleagues thatTHIS POWERFUL wave of po- WHAT will the legacy of the the multimedia and multi- the real power seems to lie 2001 in the Philippines. In the “access and use of wire-litical change seems to have North African revolutions channel capabilities of dig- in the network, a number that case, too, all of the con- less communication tech-caused a far-reaching domi- be? Many journalists, re- ital devices enhance the of influent “micro-celebri- ditions for a revolution were nology adds a fundamentalno effect: similar demonstra- searchers and bloggers are collective awareness and ex- ties” emerged. For instance, present, with 40 per cent of tool to the arsenal of thosetions are currently ongoing popularising the idea that perience of an event through Mahmoud Salem, known Filipinos living on a daily in- who seek to influence poli-in several countries includ- in the blogosphere as Sand- come of one dollar. Addition- tics and the political processing Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Can we really speak in terms of Revolution monkey, features hundreds ally, the Filipino President without being constrained byMauritania, Yemen, Kuwait, of comments for each of his Joseph Estrada was on a tri- the powers that be. Arguably,Bahrain, Jordan and Djibou- 2.0 or are we perhaps overestimating the posts and has more than al for allegations of corrup- other media, such as wiredti. In particular, the situation role of social media compared with other 25,000 followers on Twitter. tion, bribery and the illegal phones, radio, and television,in Libya is precipitating into His direct experience on the use of public funds. In Janu- could perform the same ral-a civil war: in a fiery speech important factors? field allows understanding ry 2001, the Filipino popula- lying function as wirelessto the nation on 22 February, of the dynamics of the revo- tion rebelled in anger when communication does, butMuammar Gaddafi vowed to what we witnessed in Egypt near real-time sharing of in- lution: indeed, he explained senators voted in favour of not in as timely a manner,fight on to the last drop of his was history’s first “Facebook dividual observations. In in an interview that “social the president in a key pas- not with the ability to reachblood against his opponents, revolution” – or, similarly, a their analysis, Castells and media was very useful at sage of the trial. That same people wherever they are,who have gained control of “Twitter”, “Google” or “Net” colleagues warn that the role first in letting people know day, more than 1 million peo- and not free of the produc-parts of the country. revolution. These characteri- of digital technologies needs that there is a protest and ple converged on Epifanio de tion and communication con- sations suggest that the Web to be considered within the what the demands are. Then, los Santos Avenue, known straints associated with theALTHOUGH it is too early to 2.0 seems to have an increas- wider political, economic and there was the shutdown and as EDSA, the site of the Peo- traditional media”.assess the long-term con- ing impact on all types of socio-cultural context. we were still able to organ- ple Power revolt of 1986. Thesequences, we can be cer- societal processes, even re- ise and go to protests with- protest was organised, al- WILL we witness similar dy-tain that these events will defining the concept of rev- IN EGYPT, the time was ripe out the help of social media”. most in real time, through namics in Libya as well? De-be remembered as revolu- olution. Can we really speak for revolution and social up- the forwarding of a text spite the reported internettions. American sociologist in terms of Revolution 2.0 or heaval because of a wide- THE COMMUNICATION shut- message saying “go 2 EDSA, outages, creative uses of so-Jeff Goodwin defines a rev- are we perhaps overestimat- spread condition of poverty, down would perhaps have wear black 2 mourn d death f cial media are fuelling theolution as a radical shift in ing the role of social media repression and hopelessness: been more effective if it democracy”. After four days uprisings and providing topower structures in which compared with other impor- the Wikileaks cables re- had been done just before of massive demonstrations, the international communi-“a state or a political regime tant factors? vealed that in relation to the the first gathering on Tahrir Estrada was forced to resign ty a complementary view tois overthrown and there- revolt of 6 April 2008 in El- square. Instead, it took place after several government the regime-controlled transformed by a popu- IN THE 2007 book “Mobile Mahalla, US diplomats were two days later, when the officials abandoned him Citizens’ networked activismlar movement in an irregular, communication and society warned of the possibility of demonstration had already and, like in Egypt, with the may not be sufficient to suc-extra-constitutional and/or – a global perspective”, soci- a revolution in Egypt driven gained critical mass. By then, military sided with the dem- ceed without the support ofviolent fashion”. A revolution ologist Manuel Castells and by young activists, who could the centre of gravity had onstrators. In 2001 there other key factors like interna-does not end with the fall of his colleagues describe the have effectively used Face- moved from Facebook groups was no Facebook, Twitter, tional pressure and the loyal-a regime, which takes place relationships between social book and other social me- and blogs to Tahrir square it- YouTube and the like, but the ty of Gaddafi’s entourage.