It has been a year since the start of Jan 25th 2011 Egyptian Revolution, many events took place during that past year, good and bad. What we would like to address here however, is the part the social media played in the aftermath and try to answer a few of the open questions we had in our last year’s post, The eRevolution; “Could social networking become a two-edge sword? What if social networking is used by the wrong people or for the wrong reasons? What would constitute a wrong reason or the wrong people?”
The Power of Social Media
After a month of vacation which I spent in Egypt, I came back more confident of the power of social media, but at the same time realizing how a serious two-edge sword it could be. It was very clear to me that in Egypt, social media with its embedded lack of governance became a tool of igniting people rather than mobilizing them.
The absolute positive role social media played during the 18 days of the 25th of Jan, 2011 Revolution has been shattered and been transformed for the most part into a tool of creating chaos.
According to socialbakers.com (Egypt Facebook Statistics) and The Wall Street Journal (Facebook Sees Egypt Usage Spike), Facebook usage jumped 91% from Jan 2011 to Jan 2012. Among many other reasons, the massive growth and high penetration rate in social media usage in Egypt created a very healthy environment for gossip, rumors and a tremendously effective way of transporting a piece of information across almost the entire nation.
A single tweet or Facebook status update can go viral and create a lot of misconceptions among users and before you know it, media outlets with an unforeseen irresponsibility and lack of oversight, start exchanging that piece of information as if it were a fact with no or at best minimal effort to validate it.
A New Democracy
Democracy in Egypt is still a new concept to many, and unfortunately many Egyptians believe they fully understand how democracy works. Despite the successful elections Egypt witnessed, people do not realize that this is just the first step towards democracy, and instead of taking the next step, they use social and regular media to galvanize others towards extremely opposing directions creating immense political differences and forming huge gaps in difference of opinions.
So, what do you think happens when you have tens of different and extremely opposing sides calling for street demonstrations?
It is not all negative of course, the flip and positive side of all this is that the social media is still used by many as a powerful tool in building a high level of transparency and is still regarded as a preemptive and deterrence tool to most politicians to think twice before misusing their power.
Nevertheless, the definition of what’s right and what’s wrong has been diluted at best and I could claim that, to many, the definition doesn’t exist anymore. Most sociopolitical norms have been redefined within the Egyptian society; people are left confused not able to differentiate between what’s fact and what’s fiction, what could be a conspiracy and what could be just a series of misfortunate events.
A big portion of the Egyptian society nowadays sees a political figure and cannot tell whether s/he is the good, the bad or the ugly! And if they see it (or when they believe they see it), most of the time they jump to conclusions based on social media gossip or rumors.
Serious misfortunes, originating in misrepresentation, frequently flow and spread before they can be dissipated by truth - George Washington
The Freedom of Speech
The concept of freedom of speech is very new to the Egyptian community; it is for sure a very effective weapon and a watchdog against the new government and other entities in Egypt for that matter. The people and media however, are still trying to grasp how serious such weapon is, and unfortunately, in the process some serious damage is inflicted in the society, a single rumor could go viral, could unintentionally (or even intentionally at times) mobilize opposing sides in the streets creating a recipe for a disaster.
We have seen that happening over and over in Egypt in the past year, and all these street gatherings need is one stone or a single angry person to turn into bloodshed.
Don’t get me wrong here, I am all for the freedom of speech, I am all for freedom of press and freedom of conventional and social media, but with such freedom comes responsibility, people will need to watch what they say and what they share; a single irresponsible YouTube video, word in the media, tweet or even a Facebook status update could easily create a massacre.
[box type="yellow"]To all Egyptians: You have worked hard and have sacrificed a lot for your freedom. Please use that priceless blessing responsibly in order to avoid having it taken from you again.[/box]
Image : CartoonADay.com