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Real people, real revolution

Kevin Marsh | Friday 11 February 2011, 16:39

Thirty minutes after President Mubarak steps down and I'm listening to someone on the BBC News channel telling me how it was Facebook and Twitter wot did it.
It wasn't.
It really, really wasn't - but that won't stop new media gurus from over-claiming the organisational and, ultimately, political power of social media.
It's worth remembering that the incredible, inspiring gatherings of Egyptians in Tahrir Square - and elsewhere - refused to fade away and actually grew after the mobile phone networks and the web were closed down or interrupted.
These were not people for whom the limit of political action was clicking 'Like' or 'Join' on a website. Nor were they a flash mob summoned by SMS - these were people who faced up to real violence and the risk of death, turning out day after day, refusing to leave Tahrir Square until Mubarak left power. 
The claim that social-networking created or sustained this revolution insults and trivialises it.
That's not to say new media and digital communication had no role. Of course it did - but alongside word of mouth, chatter in the coffee shops and around the market stalls, TV pictures of Tunisia, support from abroad etc etc ... and, of course, the bloody hardships of daily life in Egypt. 
It's absolutely the case that over the years a growing band of brave bloggers has steadily prised the fingers of Mubarak's press and broadcasting from the throat of public opinion - indeed, the slow drip of dissident blogging (old new media if you will) since the mid-2000s did more to create the Tahrir revolution than organisation by social media over the last 18 days.
We still don't know exactly what dislodged Mubarak - but, as so often with regime change, it appears to have everything to do with a handful of powerful men in the military and one or two of the former president's (former) government - with the odd sharp phone call from the White House and State Department - making calculations of self-interest faced with a stubbornly ungovernable populace.
And one that stood real shoulder to real shoulder. People. Gathering in reality and not digitally on the pages of Facebook or protesting 140 characters at a time on Twitter.
Depressingly traditional for those who would see something new and networked in Mubarak's defenestration. 
But maybe it'll help us get real about the limits of social networking, especially its role in political change - and understand what it doesn't do just as well as we understand what it does. 
Post categories: Editorial


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