Twitter in Egypt: The Next Revolution

Author: Zack OLeary
Published: January 27, 2011 at 6:40 am
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Egypt seems to be scared of Twitter, and with good reason. The tweets flying in certainly haven't been improving government image. Statements varied for some time in regard to the now confirmed news that the country's access to the service has been blocked. By enabling short form communication to an international audience, and playing nice with the omnipresent SMS standard, Twitter has succeeded in lowering the acting cost of public outcry, even in less wired communities. At least until it's shut out.

Mix that with the unrest sparked by the unending term of Hosni Mubarak as president, and Egypt has a pretty well hashtagged, organized and documented protest on its hands. Adding injury to the insult, the protest is illegal under the regime that Mubarak has led for three decades and counting. The resulting clash of would-be activists and officials did not remain peaceful, with injuries and fatalities further inflaming spirits on both sides.

The turnout of the protesting masses is due, in part, to the grassroots efforts of less established, more dispersed groups. They have attracted a high number of middle-class citizens, usually averse to political outcry. Put another way, this smart mob was organized like a social network.

Malcolm Gladwell recently wrote that the next revolution wouldn't happen on Twitter, a reference point for any network of weakly tied individuals with little capacity to influence one another. Seems that his prophecy may not hold up for much longer, despite the solid argument that strong relationships inspire and make a difference. It may turn out that a powerful ideal matched to a quickly organized group of believers is all it takes.

Gladwell points out that getting people to act via digital social networks only works "By not asking too much of them." Such criticism is the very description of the strength of these tools. The idea is to win over and empower a large possible audience by lowering acting costs, a task that can be accomplished through spread of information and a bit of organizational planning. The success of such efforts is not bits of assistance like so many drops in a bucket - it is a tidal wave.

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Article Author: Zack OLeary

I study science and technology policy at the University of Edinburgh. Between classes I'm usually consuming some kind of media and sharing my opinion on it.

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