We make no claims whatsoever to bringing any political, religious, economic, or aesthetic insight on the momentous events unfolding in Tunisia, Egypt, and now (perhaps) Yemen. We encourage our readers to go to a few respected news sources to get a better sense of what is going on there, and how these rebellions (the names given to revolutions until the rebels win) might have an impact on the US.
A sub-story is emerging, though, that relates to the ongoing debate about the impact of social media to bring social change – a topic we have often touched upon here. The events in Egypt may or may not be of immediate concern to our readership, but the sub-story might prove to be a micro-experiment in the interplay of social media and traditional media to motivate larger audiences to important causes.
The uprising in Egypt is gathering the greatest attention in the media at the moment, probably because the Mubarak regime is so well-entrenched in a large, wealthy, and powerful country (at least in comparison to Tunisia, where – thankfully – the coup has thus far passed without much bloodshed). The 30-year old regime must contend with today’s demonstrations on the Islamic holy day (Friday), when many will be off work and gathering at mosques throughout the unsettled country.
How the government has done so suggests the impact of social media. Access to the internet and cell-phone networks were shut down over night to stop grass-roots planning. Many news reports have been stressing the roles of Twitter and Facebook in the buildup to today’s demonstrations (and those in Tunisia), so the Mubarak regime clearly understood the need to quash those media.
That said, a collection of tweets about events in Egypt as posted on The Huffington Post show a singularly American provenance that belies the argument.
The counterpart to shutting down cellphone and social-media access is the fact, as NPR reported this morning, that what the government did not (bother to?) shut down were land telephone lines. Calls made over twentieth-century landlines must have been perceived as too few to bother with if mobile technologies could be disrupted.
Unlikely any direct links can be drawn between events in Egypt and outreach in the US. But what the events show is that powers resistant to change are growing aware of the media by which change is being encouraged. Whether the scale is national revolution or, the beauty of social media is the scalability. The question is how engaged people become with the messages conveyed.