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Did social media fail the Egyptians?

Earlier last week I attended a journalists’ panel discussion in Alexandria Library. The panel meant to discuss social media effect in mobilizing people. To be more specific, it focused on giving answers to the question of why social media failed to mobilize people in Egypt on the ‘Day of Anger’.

According to Arab Media Blog, ‘The Day of Anger’ in Egypt was called by the April 6th Movement, a group of young activists formed last year after workers protests culminated in clashes between security forces and workers in the Nile Delta town of Mahalla, killing three people, including a child, and injuring more than 150.

Egyptian activists focused on Facebook and SMS text messages to gain support for their protests. One of the Facebook groups ‘April 6 Youth’ – not affiliated with any particular political movement – boasts more than 75,000 online members with a motto “It’s our right, and we’ll take it”. Many news outlets reported their two main demands: “setting the national minimum monthly wage at 1,200 Egyptian pounds (213 dollars) and electing a body to draft a new constitution – The current minimum wage in Egypt is 167 Egyptian pounds (29 dollars) -”.

With all the hype of social media one would expect huge demonstrations. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much anger in Egypt on the ‘Day of Anger’. Why?

Egyptian journalists attending the discussion panel rationalized it for two main reasons:

  1. The heavy security measurements applied by the Egyptian government security forces. Dozens of people were arrested in the run-up of the planned day. “Police have been given the order to arrest anyone taking part in demonstrations. Extra security forces are deployed around sensitive sites in Cairo and around the country” said a security official.
  2. The virtual aspect of the movement which lacked any real organization or set of demands, couldn’t build the trust needed to create a coalition among desperate groups to demand real change.

Markmedia, a social media expert and one of the main speakers at the panel, corrected the notion of the failure of social media and highlighted a very important point: “Social media is a tool, it doesn’t mobilize people. People are the ones to mobilize each other”.

Throughout history few people have always managed to influence the masses. Think Jesus Christ, Carl Marx and Mahatma Gandhi – just to mention few. In today’s world, such influencers have even more powerful tools to pass on their messages and reach the masses.

Social Media broke the monopoly of mainstream media over reflecting people’s voices. Markmedia put it eloquently “Mainstream media used to say we are the voice of the people. Now people are saying: “F*** off we have our own voices”.

Social media wasn’t used effectively enough to help mobilizing people in Egypt. I looked for other examples over the web where social media failed to mobilize people but didn’t find any -please feel free to point out any other examples -. Although there are many cases where social media failed in business marketing: research firm Gartner claims that many social media campaigns are doomed to fail! Facebook Beacon is an example. There are many successful stories where social media was used successfully. I will leave that for another post.

Now, answer me: Should dictatorships fear the power of the Web today? Or can they manage to suppress the emergence of social media the way they have managed to do with other communication medium?

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