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The Role Of Social Media In Egypt; Twitter Issues Response

EgyptIn his Egypt roundup yesterday, Andy linked to a graph that showed the dramatic and "unprecedented" cutoff of the Internet by the government in that turmoil-engulfed country. As you have heard by now, protesters organized demonstrations by heavily utilizing both Twitter and Facebook. CNN is reporting that even though the Internet is unavailable in Egypt, the mobile networks are working intermittently and are allowing people in Egypt to occasionally sneak out a tweet or two.

The NY Times has today published a piece about how effective these web tools can been be for both protesters and certain governments such as those of places Egypt, Tunisia and China:

“There’s nothing deterministic about these tools — Gutenberg’s press, or fax machines or Facebook,” Ms. Brown said. “They can be used to promote human rights or to undermine human rights.” This is the point of Mr. Morozov, 26, a visiting scholar at Stanford. In “The Net Delusion,” he presents an answer to the “cyberutopians” who assume that the Internet inevitably fuels democracy. He coined the term “spinternet” to capture the spin applied to the Web by governments that are beginning to master it.

In China, Mr. Morozov said, thousands of commentators are trained and paid — hence their nickname, the 50-Cent Party — to post pro-government comments on the Web and steer online opinion away from criticism of the Communist Party. In Venezuela, President Hugo Chávez, after first denouncing hostile Twitter comments as “terrorism,” created his own Twitter feed — an entertaining mix of politics and self-promotion that now has 1.2 million followers.

Twitter Meanwhile, writing that "the open exchange of information can have a positive global impact," Twitter has indirectly responded to its impact in the recent demonstrations in Northern Africa in a post on their official blog:

"Our goal is to instantly connect people everywhere to what is most meaningful to them. For this to happen, freedom of expression is essential. Some Tweets may facilitate positive change in a repressed country, some make us laugh, some make us think, some downright anger a vast majority of users. We don't always agree with the things people choose to tweet, but we keep the information flowing irrespective of any view we may have about the content."

Today Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak essentially fired his entire cabinet by asking them to resign. He has since chosen a vice president for the first time in his 30-year presidency and also appointed former chief of air staff Ahmad Shafiq as prime minister. But this doesn't seem to have much of an impact on the demonstrations as protesters continue to defy the government-imposed curfew.

Personally, it's looking like my long-planned trip to Egypt next month won't be happening after all. Time to think of a back-up.

Watch a powerful montage of the protests thus far, AFTER THE JUMP.

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  1. The fact is that Twitter is not really a factor in Egypt, just as it wasn't a real factor in Iran. In Iran we heard a lot about Twitter, but after things cooled down we heard from the Iranians themselves that they didn't use Twitter- only the Western reporters did.

    The Egyptian Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted: A First-Hand Report From Cairo

    Posted by: Mike | Jan 29, 2011 2:40:53 PM

  2. I heard from an in-Cairo NPR reporter that when Twitter (but perhaps rather the Internet as a whole) was blocked, it sent people into the streets because they couldn't "participate" electronically anymore. The street became their only option.

    Posted by: David R. | Jan 29, 2011 4:06:55 PM

  3. Unfortunately, the bill last year that would give the US government an internet kill switch is back again this year:

    Egypt Flips Internet Kill Switch. Will the U.S.?

    Posted by: Mike | Jan 29, 2011 4:41:51 PM


    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Jan 29, 2011 5:40:32 PM

  5. Sorry, Steve. I was there last March, and in reading recent reports all I could think was, Man, if this had happened during my visit I would have been so annoyed. Not that it isn't richly deserved; Mubarak is awful.

    Part of the reason I thought that was that I was in Thailand during a major coup in November 2008 that shut down all the airports. I don't think you should have to deal with that kind of thing every couple years...Every 5 or 10, sure, you take your chances traveling to most any developing country with corrupt leaders.

    As a backup, try Jordan or Israel if you want the Middle East, or Turkey (which is sort of Middle Eastern and obviously has enormous history and is gorgeous in more ways than one). Our group used a gay guide and an extremely gay-friendly female guide, and they lead tours is all those countries and others. Let me know if you'd like their info. I bet they're not happy in Cairo at the moment---apparently a lot of looting is going on in addition to the protests.

    And Egypt may still work. In Thailand protesters focused on airports in Bangkok, but other cities did their best to insulate tourists from the far more limited protests--meaning that tourist areas were unaffected. So if you avoid Cairo (which I did anyway, aside from the obligatory visit to the pyramids), you might be OK. It sounds like the protests are on the streets and not restricting air travel, and a lot can change in a month.

    Posted by: Paul R | Jan 29, 2011 8:23:17 PM

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