Archive

Archive for February, 2011

The Revolution was Televised, Tweeted, SMSed and Shared

February 12, 2011 3 comments

I just watched the speech announcing President Mubarak has relinquished power to the military in Egypt. The political ramifications will affect the entire world, and many others are more qualified to discuss them. On the other hand, media, both “traditional” and new, played a significant role as the events unfolded.

There is a pointless ongoing debate about whether social media (Facebook in particular) started this revolution. The proponents of this point of view disrespect the sacrifice of those demonstrating and dying on the streets of Egypt. It is clear that social media helped, initially, organize the protest but they continued to grow in size and intensity after the government shut down the internet and mobile networks. Mass radical actions need communication, and the internet certainly makes communication faster and easier. But even with Twitter, Facebook and the Internet, nothing would be happening if the demonstrators didn’t believe they had a cause worth fighting for and an opportunity to improve their lives.

Twitter and Facebook did help spread awareness of the events in Egypt outside the country. Many people in Europe and the US would not have known of the details of the events without access to social media. For example, A graphic view of twitter #Jan25 traffic shows the reach into Europe and the Eastern US during Hosni Mubarak’s last speech.

A new breed of reporter has emerged: the Tweeter Aggregator who live-tweets what they are seeing around them or on TV to followers across the globe. For example, @SultanAlQassemi increased his following to over 31,000 by summarising what he was watching on various TV channels.

Social media also allowed the correspondents of broadcast networks and print media to add a personal perspective from the ground. For example, @NicRobertsonCNN, @NickKristof (NYTimes) and @AymanM (Jazeera) gave vivid descriptions of what they witnessed first hand in a mix of reporting styles that at times merged their professional persona with their personal emotions without the filter of an editor or copywriter.

It is interesting that social media seems to have spurred activism while simultaneously creating a new breed of “activist keyboard potato”. Many people were happily tweeting and updating their status messages with some form of  “We are with you Egypt” messages. I doubt many of them did anything more than type those words and then go back to watching TV or surfing the net. No demonstrations. No messages to their congressman. No tangible manifestation of their support.  The ease of spreading messages through social media seems to allow one to safely feel they have done their part while other people are dying on the streets.

The events in Egypt also show that social media is enhancing and further supporting the role of the traditional television broadcast. Television has been declared dead many times, yet in Egypt it remained at the center of events. The protestors in Tahrir Square installed television sets to keep track of events outside their vicinity. When ElBaradei made a speech in Tahrir, he didn’t have the right audio setup so his message was hardly heard or communicated. Twitter amplified and debated information and speeches made on television. Social media is complementing traditional broadcasting and incumbent media companies need to learn how to use social media to their advantage.

Finally, any government that still believes it can hide events or misinform its citizens is simply delusional, IF a minimum level of technology and access to foreign media is possible. Anyone with a satellite dish knew the messages being broadcast by Egypt’s official channels was not a reflection of reality. The futile attempts to remove Jazeera from NileSat simply encouraged other channels and satellites to carry its signal. Satellite broadcasting continued even when the internet and mobile networks were shut down. Google developed a phone-based tweeting system when twitter was blocked. Foreign journalists could still access the internet because the government needed to keep some ISPs open to support the banking sector. The reactions to the statements from the Egyptian and American Presidents was immediate on screen and on social media.

As Egypt enters a new era in its history, so does media in the Middle East.

Advertisements
Categories: Social Media Tags: , ,