Social Media, Politics and Egypt’s Revolution …
The January 2011 Egyptian Revolution, hailed by the media as a social media revolution; the first major incident where social media directly altered the political life of a nation highlights the effects of these online platforms on traditional government structures.
The blogosphere has long been recognised as the world’s most expansive protest ground but, prior to the Egyptian revolution social media’s capacity to translate online communities into reality has been limited to viral YouTube videos featuring flashdance groups in various locations around the globe.
Egypt’s recent revolution has revealed the true capacity of social media when utilised properly and the the potential ramifications of the above. Although, much of the media hype has focused on the most recent social media activities of protesters via Facebook page ‘We are all Khaled Said’, their avid use of social technology began several years ago in 2008 with blogging. A convenient platform for communication. Blogs allowed their author to remain anonymous and therefore subject to, at least temporary, evasion from the government. The global reach of the media platform allowed the Egyptian public to garner interest and support for thier cause around the world. The potential power social media provides all individuals is noted by Charles Hirschking (2011) in his article ‘From the blogosphere to the street: The role of social media in the Egyptian Uprising’.
One of the first and most prominant Egyptian protest blogs, al-wa’i al-masri (Egyptian Awareness), authored by Wael Abbab posted numerous videos of the abuse occuring behind the scenes in Egypt. Sent to him via mobile phone or from other bloggers one of the graphic videos revealed an Egyptian man in a Cairo police station, sexually and physically abused by the officers (Hirschkind, 2011).
This uncontrolled increase in transparancy, propelled by social media outlets has altered the relationship between the government and the public. In the extreme case of Egypt, social media provided an opportunity for oppressed citizens to reveal the abuse suffered under a harsh regime and ultimately rise up and over throw their suppressors.
But, the influence of social media in traditional methods of governing, encouraging and often forcing upon them a level of transparency is evident across the globe. The desire of the public to know the inner workings of those who rule has culminated in the United States with suggestions of making available all the actions, affiliations and sponsors of Senators in the United States Government. Such transparency or ‘Naked Transparency’ has not been viewed positively by all. Laurence Lessig (2010) highlights the issues which may arise in knowing too much: A state of confusion, loss of faith in the government, not to mention miss-information.
‘We are not thinking clear enough about where and when transparency works and where and when it may lead to confusion or to worse,’ Lessig (2010) comments in his work ‘Against transparency: The perils of open government’.
Whether for good or bad it is clear that social media has permanently altered the hierarchy between the citizens and governments of the world. Forcing a level of transparency and accountability on those in traditional positions of power. Social media has provided its users with their own newfound authority.
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