These days, Egypt is facing a revolution that may change the Arab world. Enrique Dans has pointed out that this crisis comes from a domino effect which started in Tunisia and is now heading into other dictatorships such as Algeria, Yemen and Jordan. In all of these countries, the revolution is being driven mainly through social media. But what is the real role of social media in this movement? Of course it is not responsible for the revolution, nor is WikiLeaks the cause of all this. But both Julian Assange’s organization and the Web 2.0 have become crucial in the development of the crisis in Tunisia and Egypt.
WikiLeaks has been the source of information through which these movements have been able to base their protests. The documents confirming the cruelty and corruption in Tunisia, and the release of new cables concerning Egypt as the crisis reached its critical point have made Ben Ali and Mubarak weaker against the citizens of their countries. People are rebelling against the established power because of several reasons, but we should not forget that it was WikiLeaks who gave proof of the regimes’ actions.
Social media has played an even bigger role in these conflicts. The organization Anonymous writes in its message from January 29th that “when protests erupted upon the occasion of one fruit vendor’s bravery, the media ignored it.” I don’t think traditional media ignored the crisis, but I do believe the information made available was controlled by the political and economic interests that rule traditional media today. As someone said on Twitter last week “if I watch it on the Internet, I feel the North African revolutions will be here the day after tomorrow. If I watch it on TV, it seems it only happens in third-world countries.”
Following #Egypt or #jan25 on Twitter seems to be a better way to keep up with new information than waiting for the TV news. Social Media is live, unedited and written by hundreds of people with very different backgrounds and origins. This allows us to get different points of view at the same time, so we can form a better idea of what is really going on. This is huge, because it means that social media gives you information which you can then think about and interpret on your own, while traditional media tends to feed you the information as they believe it should be interpreted. It also means Western democracies cannot avoid the issues discussed and are forced to show themselves in favor of either the revolutionaries or the dictatorships, speeding up the resolution of the crisis.
Social media gives activists an excellent communication tool to keep in contact with both people within their country and those from other nations. It also allows them to access or reveal relevant information and, by something as easy as creating a Facebook page, coordinate a massive protest in the street such as the “day of anger”. Being aware of this, Mubarak has tried to ban any access to social media, Internet and even cellphone networks, but Web 2.0 has shown to be strong enough to resist these attempts of censorship: Google and Twitter have created a service that allows people to tweet with just a phone call, leaving a voice mail that is automatically written down and published in Twitter with the #egypt hashtag.
It seems that social media is where democracy is given back to the people, and is being protected by technology against those who try to control it.