Why Social Media Helped My People Change the World

As an Egyptian, nothing brought me more exuberance and pride than watching my people unite and take destiny into their own hands. As a digital hobbyist, nothing was more exciting than seeing social technologies empower the biggest revolution of the 21st century.  Put them together, you find an emotionally and intellectually stunned man, slowly picking his jaw off the floor.

During these past 3 historical weeks, I could not help but look at social media’s role in the revolution, especially for activists.  If, why and how did social media play a role?

It is evident to me that indeed social media has played multi-faceted roles at different stages of Egypt’s revolution (which I will detail in a future post).  Through this, an even greater underlying principle emerged:

Social media is built and designed to support social movements. The social media framework itself is a powerful underlying force that allows the momentum of movements to surge uncontrollably and organically.

A revolution, a movement, or any major social cause nourishes on unity, “people power,” advocacy, connectivity, grassroots mobilization, free expression and shared aspirations… all of which are inherently embedded within the social media skeleton and system. (Best example lies within Facebook). It is almost as if social media perfectly fits as a layer within a movement’s structure.  Here is a diagram to further illustrate this model, based on Facebook and Twitter as examples (click to enlarge):The Activists Social Media Skeleton

The revolution did not happen because of social media, but social media is designed for revolutions.

Yes, revolutions successfully occured long before the internet, tv, radio or newspapers, but social media, unlike any other medium, is ideally structured for revolutions/causes, as illustrated in the above diagram.  It is now the first and last place for activists, because its capabilities are designed to allow activism to flourish.

With more time, interest and digital energy spent on social sites, social media is now a fundamental and integral component for today’s activist.  If anyone wants to challenge a status quo, energize and mobilize their network towards a cause…

  • Where do you think they will go first?
  • What will help them gather supporters and resources faster and more efficiently?
  • What will allow them to connect, notify, and engage their base?
  • What will help them easily organize events, rallies and get donations?
  • What will help them recruit other activists and get their voices across?

This is exactly what the Egyptians net activists understood and exploited, especially around the shameless censorship of the Mubarak regime, which realized the power of social media and blocked the internet for some time during the revolution.  (My next blog post will focus on “the how,” recapping the creative social tactics of the Egyptian revolutionaries, along with the events on the ground and how social-based strategies leverage the momentum of the revolution).

At this very moment, desperate and freedom hungry activists in Algeria, Syria, and Yemen are following the Egyptian and Tunisian example and are not only getting to the streets but are also flocking to social media, in hopes of spawning similar revolutionary change in their countries.  The momentum continues.

What are your thoughts on this issue?