Egypt: Is the social network taking up arms?
Mark Zuckerberg claims on his Facebook page that he is motivated by the desire to “make the world a more open place”. Likewise, Twitter boasts the best way to immediately get “what’s new in your world.” I doubt either of them would have suspected this though. It seems they are getting their wish, but with surprisingly powerful and violent consequences; we have moved into the era of the socially networked revolution, and we are all the better for it.
This week the young, educated, connected and disenfranchised masses of Egypt joined those of Tunisia, Iran, France, Germany and Britain in making a stand against received wisdom and status quo politics. Thousands have piled onto the streets in capitals around the world in a show of force that is rarely seen with such relentless optimism. They are just the latest example of a growing number of ground-swell movements that will force a change to the face of the political world. Their causes might all be different, the numbers might vary and the methods might fluctuate in extremity, but every single one of these movements have been facilitated by one thing; The Social Network.
The consequences for new political and social institutional interactions are exciting. Thomas Jefferson once said, “People should not fear their governments; governments should fear their people”. But it was rarely any more than a cheap mantra used by the political elite to ease the revolutionary tendencies of an otherwise ignored ‘huddled masses’. But now, in lieu of regular and meaningful consultation, those tendencies are proving motivating once again.
People can get in touch instantly, and organise meetings in moments. Whereas only a few years ago strikes and protests took months of planning, invitations to the next NUS rally or Free Palestine march now ping onto our Smartphone daily. The convictions of otherwise marginalised minorities can no longer be dispersed so easily, not when virtual ‘Groups’ and ‘Lists’ allow people to congregate and find comfort in their opinions.
Facebook has given a shamefully dwindling class of contrarians the confidence to disseminate their cause and the ability to act upon it. Twitter created the march on Tehran’s Freedom Square, it allowed for the snap movements of NUS students around Westminster and now it is supporting the seventh day of protests in Cairo. The power to protest no longer lies dishevelled at the foot of a smashed-up soap box, it is alive and well in the culture of ‘re-tweets’ and ‘likes’.
Political institutions of the world have to respond. The desire for constant inclusion and consideration in the governing of our societies will only grow as the technology to facilitate it evolves. The ‘direct’ democracy that once reigned supreme in the conclaves of Athens will move from the pipe dreams of academics to the policies of future leaders. The politics of the first decade of the 21st century must either embrace widespread technical and political literacy or seriously strengthen its ranks of riot police.Tagged in: egypt, facebook, Hosni Mubarak, iran, protests, Riots, Social network, Students, Tunisia, twitter, uk
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