Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Tweeting the revolution

Someone wake up New Yorker columnist and bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell and drag him to the 21st century. While opining on the events in Egypt, Gladwell completely dismissed the role and value of social networks in the revolution.
Right now there are protests in Egypt that look like they might bring down the government. There are a thousand important things that can be said about their origins and implications: as I wrote last summer in The New Yorker, “high risk” social activism requires deep roots and strong ties. But surely the least interesting fact about them is that some of the protesters may (or may not) have at one point or another employed some of the tools of the new media to communicate with one another. Please. People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before the Internet came along.
Malcolm Gladwell doesn't get it. I'm not aware of anyone trumpeting Twitter and Facebook as the saviors of the world and giving them sole credit for the uprising of the people against the Egyptian government. Gladwell comes off as a self-important (though uninformed) luddite.

We've seen social networks play prominent roles in the exchange of information that assisted with demonstrations against governments in both Iran and Egypt. In both cases, these tools allowed the people to bypass the official state media and organize opposition to government. Mr. Gladwell cites East Germany and the French Revolution as examples of successful revolutions that used the technologies of those days: the phone and the human voice, respectively. What's so different about Egyptians using the technology of our day?

There exists an old adage that the pen is mightier than the sword. This explains why the government of Egypt has shut down the Internet and mobile communications networks. President Mubarak and his administration believe that if they control the flow of information, they can maintain their precarious grip on power. It's also the reason why China is censoring news about the revolution in Egypt. President Hu doesn't want any of his countrymen getting any ideas.

Social networking, whether through Twitter, or Facebook or YouTube, democratize the media, taking the power out of the hands of elites and into the hands of the people. In the case of revolution, these tools make it easier for people to organize. But social media also gives scribes like Malcolm Gladwell who work for dead tree publications much to fear from people like us.


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