Zeid Abdul-Hadi

Vice Chairman, HarCapital


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To what extent has social media contributed to the spreading of the People's revolutions and call for Freedom in Tunisia & Egypt?

The past month has seen unprecedented events in history in the Middle East that hasn't been possible to achieve in 30 years, and this is partly due to the rise of the internet and the new means of communication at the disposal of people, and in particular social media, such as Twitter & Facebook, which has allowed people to rally for a common cause in large numbers in a way that would've been impossible before. In addition, the rise of the use of the internet and social media has enabled people to see everything clearly and to know about everything from different media sources, so no government can fool its people anymore.

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    Feb 14 2011: I've heard at least three ideas for why social media could be important in the Egyptian/Tunisian context, and I think there's a fourth idea that's not been widely discussed yet.

    Idea 1 - the secret information theory
    A number of commentators have suggested that information released by Wikileaks and circulated via social media helped foment frustration in Tunisia and mobilize the demonstrations. While it's true that Tunisia worked very hard to suppress the Wikileaks information, the information revealed wasn't especially secret. I think that, while the idea of the Internet as a platform for unblockable secrets is very appealing, I think there may be fewer secrets than we imagine in our mediated age, and more channels than the internet.

    Idea 2 - command and coordination
    The New York Times has run several stories looking at how groups like the April 6 Youth Movement and Kefaya used the internet to coordinate protests in Egypt. While there's some truth to these stories, it's worth noting that the protests continued during an internet shutdown. Yes, the internet is a great tool for organizing protest, but it's also an open, public channel, not always the best place to plan a revolution.

    Idea 3 - amplifying voices
    Protests in Sidi Bouzid would have received little media attention without two technologies - Facebook and Al Jazeera. AlJ used videos posted on Facebook to report on the protests to the rest of Tunisia and the rest of the world. As protests spread through Tunisia, they inspired the world as a whole.

    the one I've heard little about

    Idea 4 - participatory governance
    Now that leaders have been overthrown in Egypt and Tunisia, what's next? There needs to be a channel for youth - the folks who led protests - to influence the new process of governance. What will be really exciting is if figures like Wael Ghonim can use Facebook to get ideas from the youth he now represents in conversations with the new Egyptian government.
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    Feb 17 2011: Question is similar to "To what extent did the printing press have in the fall in dominance of the Catholic Church?".

    Answer to both questions: Quite a bit.

    Free flow of information is and will do a lot to enable people power to dismantle concentrations of wealth and power based on deceit.
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    Feb 12 2011: This is a very interesting infograph about Egypt Revolution on Twitter:

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    Feb 14 2011: The governments of Tunisia and Egypt were overthrown in part because they did not pay enough attention to the power of the Internet. How else to explain the fact that the Egyptian government took little effort to crack down on the Facebook groups opposing it in the several months preceding the protests?

    Social media are good for publicizing protests - but, as they are social by definition, they are also easy to track and monitor, subjecting protesters to risks they may not even be aware of. What we are going to see in the months to come is more governments learning the tricks of open-source intelligence gathering to avoid being caught off guard like Ben Ali or Hosni Mubarak.
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    Feb 14 2011: Online social media is simply a tool that can be used and abused in ways as creative as the people exploiting it. It can help to organise revolutionaries, or to help crush them. Let's not forget that dissent and revolutions existed in equally powerful forms before digital social media, so while these tools helped, say, the people of Tunisia and Egypt, these were not "twitter revolutions" "facebook revolutions" etc. I find that name itself very patronising: news channels and corporations desperately branding the bravery and sacrifice of the people of Tunisia, Egypt, and so on...

    I think once the revolutionary passion has momentum, it can succeed. Online social media helps it to succeed faster.
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    Feb 16 2011: The simple fact that information spread quickly can help a revolution is not a difficult concept. That Social media has played a role in this case is obvious. However before we pat ourselves on the back on how e-powerful we are, id like to ask a few questions.
    As electronic information is more traceable now; had some outside influence helped Mubarak to maintain power, How likely is it that the central players would be alive next month? (will failed movements , fail more completely in the future?)
    When you consider Ethan Zuckerman's TED talk (Ethan Zuckerman: Listening to global voices) he states that we tend to interact with those who view the world the same way. We tend to allow connections to people who have differing views to atrophy, This leads us to ideologue islands where we bolster "Beliefs" in to "Facts". The rise of Intolerance and violence, happens at edges where these Islands rub against each other. So the second question, is ; Does this revolution actually show us the rise in distension thats coming, (Are small ideas going to cause bigger problems?)
    Social Media is just a tool. As some members of the NRA in the USA like to tout "the gun is the tool to build democracy." (apparently forgetting all the despots, dictators and harm it also helped build). Humans are ingenious creatures at finding ways to use tools for personal advancement. so my third question , Is more of just a thought; How do we use this tool to further universal positives, while limiting its potential for inciting universal violence?
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    Feb 15 2011: First, there were only rare beautifully written handwritten texts on scrolls, papyrus, and bamboo sticks. And how many people could get access and have opportunity to share their thoughts that way? Then, jump to the birth of the Gutenberg printing press and books, and we have democratization of ideas (ideas got cheaper to make/express/share, therefore it spread). Now, come to recent history and you see the telephone, fax, pagers (ha!), mobile phones, PC+email+internet, and BAM....the world is connected, we get globalization. FINALLY, communication devices got so mobile and affordable and ubiquitous and standardized in communication, that its fusion with the internet+social media led to real-time, everywhere, anytime, global interconnected communication. In my country (Thailand), even the fruit monger pushing fruit on a cart selling food by the street can afford a mobile phone. Once again, communication is pushed to even cheaper and more affordable (and continues to become more powerful along the way), but now add instant photos+audio+video shared automagically by facebook+twitter, catalyzed and picked up by major broadcasters (aljazeera).... this TRULY is a powerful tool, and one that is in the hands of the regular individual, even a fruit monger. Tunisia is connected. Egypt is connected. I think these factors uniquely catalyzed/enabled what the People were feeling inside, and they expressed it. Just think for a moment if this could have been achieve by faxes,email,pagers alone? Maybe not as quickly or as nimbly, maybe not at all (couldn't be afforded by as many people). Which country is next to utilize this? The one whose people are connected, and oppressed/dissatisfied. I absolutely think the communication technology of our day is EMPOWERING the little guy, so institutions beware. The so-called "non-state actors", yes even the LONE individual, can start something now. They just have to feel, decide, express, connect, and act in crowds... hopefully for the good
  • Feb 12 2011: I was lucky to experience a 'velvet' revolution in the former Czechoslovakia in 1989 when we, students, started demonstrations against Communists. Looking back and comparing it to People's revolution in Egypt I think that in general people need a way to communicate/organize themselves and they also need an access to truthful information about what is happening and why, rather than being fed by government controlled media.

    I think social media did play an important role as a communication tool in Egypt's revolution but I also think other Internet tools were as much important. For example, people's ability to access other sources of information about Tunisia, online discussions and blogs about Egypt's problems, videos of abuses etc. played main role over the years.
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    Feb 11 2011: I would say it’s significant. You can use the same concepts of Chris Andersons talk the Power of YouTube to see how social media can have the same impact. Crowd, Light, Desire. Simple tweets lead to people sharing the same opinions.[crowd] The better tweets and messaging that represent the crowd get retweeted and retweeted.[light] Enough social media chatter starts building the crowd, and people take action by protesting in the streets. [desire]

    I can’t say obviously if this is how things happened in Egypt, but I’m pretty sure it had some impact.
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      Feb 16 2011: I agree. Traditional media has editors. Social media has none. This can be a very great thing but it can turn into a harmfull one. People at least in some countries look at social media as more reliable. It could be the case in some countries but it's not the rule. I believe that It's easyer to fool 10 regular people then 10 old editors. It's clear that we need to have both as complementary.
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        Feb 20 2011: Perhaps one of the positives of social media becoming a global information source is that people generally recognize each YouTube video, blog post, or tweet for what it is -- one person's unverified, raw experience.

        Conversely, while much mainstream media has degenerated in recent years into little more than one person's unsubstantiated raw opinions (with the tacit support of the companies producing the media), the regular people consuming those tv shows and web articles often don't recognize them for what they've become.

        Social media may sometimes be a wolf and sometimes a sheep, but at least it's not dressed up in the other's clothing.
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      Feb 22 2011: The events that are unfolding in LIbya over the last few days with complete media blackout and hardly any internet access for LIbyans with the outside world demonstrates that although socia media and the Internet can bring many groups together under one cause and can expose many truths which could otherwise be hidden, have proven that the power of oppressed masses to rally together united for freedom of tyranny far exceeds the power of the Internet and social media. The events in Libya hardly had any exposure on the Internet and social media compared to events Tunisia and Egypt.
  • Feb 24 2011: Yes you are right, these personal technologies have superseded tyrants and tyrannical systems that have kept their subject peoples ignorant and misinformed about the world. I keep getting the impression,and someone correct me if I am wrong,that many of the young protesters in these countries have fully grasped the relative political backwardness of their governments and are thoroughly embarrassed. They also have seen what people in Western cultures have attained, in personal advancement and realization,as well as material well-being--things that we take for granted--and they compare that to the prospects before them,which is devoid of much advancement, and they have collectively decided that they want more out of life than the repressive circumstances they find themselves in.
  • Feb 21 2011: There is no doubt to say that Media has a great influence in our thoughts and perceptions. It has a major role in shaping our preferences, likes and dislikes. Just facebook has more than half a billion active users.
  • Feb 21 2011: When I was doing my first steps in the internet, somebody called my attention to something which I want to contribute to this subject:

    "Out of an operative view, the internet is an ideal instrument for communication, recruiting and mobilization for all kinds of groups. In the opposite direcotion it is an easy-to-use fishnet for uncautious individuals being in the way of authorities."
  • Feb 20 2011: I think social media only serves to bring out the true feelings of oppressed people wishing to have personal freedom and being smothered by their selfish dictators. Time is running out for these self centered leaders. I support ALL peaceful efforts for people to cry out for their human rights.
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    Feb 17 2011: I don't know whether it played a huge role inside those countries but it was effective in citizen reporting and creating world pressure.
  • Feb 17 2011: before the social media there is the people of Egypt something we must admire greatly , the amazing thing about social media is that government cant stop it or monitor it as easy as other medias , we saw at first they blocked the social sites but Egyptians used proxy tools to bypass the blocking then to shut those sites they blocked the whole internet service .
    social media with the options they offer like sharing videos and pictures made every simple citizen with simple tools like a mobile camera a reporter for other citizens and world . telling them about facts that will not be mentioned on state TVs and this will fire the inside revolutions and destroy the outside support for the regimes
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    Feb 16 2011: The Age of Social Media is the next great age of mankind, following the Age of Information. No one has any idea what will be the final impact on governments, societies and cultures globally by this phenomena. The Facebook model of connecting people globally is being adopted by every organization on the internet- from AARP to TED. Yes to post this comment on TED Conversations, I had to sign up and create a profile, upload a photo, provide some information, and now I am ready for this personal experience with TED users, and with universal users of social medial world wide. Who could predict the final impact? Ha!
  • Feb 16 2011: Social Media is doing a few things for Egypt:

    -Speeding up the transfer of information.
    -Boosting the credibility of the events world wide.
    -Challenging the philanthropists

    Aside from all of the other many ways Social Media can help-- here are three things that I believe are worth dwelling on and maybe you hadn't thought of yet?

    -The faster the xfer of info, the more attention the crisis demands.
    -Filtering the credibility of the media is something everyone should do. Filtering a first hand account, well, take it with a grain of salt, but you can hardly call that filtering. Social media isn't JUST another tool. It is a free way for anyone who can get an internet signal to catch your attention. Free for me to look and see the Free video of the riot shot from a cell phone
    -Philanthropy is such a over-saturated word, but I believe that if we can challenge the people with the ability to do something about it, we can watch development happen even faster. I'm a poor college student! I couldn't spare enough money to even put a dent in making a difference!! However, in the drop of a hat, 1% of Donald Trump's estate could rebuild countless homes in egypt. (is donald trump a philanthropist?)

    These are just ideas, and i'm interested to see what people think.
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    Feb 16 2011: In the very least, social media has allowed the opposition movements to expose the control mechanisms used by the governments in power. Power to spread information is in the hands of the people who now have the ability to spread short messages on Twitter, organize rallies on Facebook and share evidence of brutality on YouTube.

    In Iran in 2009-2010, we saw that social media was a tool for protesters, but not necessarily one that tipped the momentum. In Egypt, I would argue that social media was essential to perpetuating the will of the people and in granting a ground-level perspective to the rest of the world. As a result, the regime had to buckle under the pressure coming from both sides. The truth was exposed and the country would not be able to go on without some kind of change.
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    Feb 11 2011: Social media is very powerfull but can also do very much harm. I know it for a fact from someone that lives there that people that were sitting in the home and looked at TV and social media videos and messages were simply terified because of the exagerations that were presented online. Because it requires no proof, no video documentation and it is extremely viral I think that social media could be a very harmfull and an easy to manipulate media channel in this sort of moments. However, I do think it is extremely good in some other times.