At the rate of our technological growth, we – as a society – are developing technology faster than we’re understanding how to use it. Facebook is a perfect example.
For most users, Facebook is a social networking site for accumulating friends and establishing industry contacts. For those less network-savvy, it’s a form of social narcissism. Whichever way you’re using Facebook, it’s time to start thinking about The Social Network’s political potentials.
It is my thesis that the revolution in Egypt demonstrates that we – as a global village – are finally beginning to understand the subversive opportunities that social media provides.
Enter Wael Ghonim. A resident of Egypt and a product and marketing manager for Google, Ghonim created the Facebook group “We Are All Khaled Said.” Although the group started as a tribute to Egyptian businessman Khaled Said, it quickly accumulated members and spawned the civil uprise in Egypt. Said was beaten to death by Egyptian police and left to die on the streets of Alexandria. Horrified at the injustice,Ghonim formed the group and uploaded morgue photos of Said’s brutally beaten body. The photos were captured on a cell phone camera.
According to Wall Street journalist L. Gordon Crovitz, the visual evidence “undermined the official explanations for [Said’s] death.” The Facebook page attracted 500,000 members, whom joined the group to witness the injustices unfolding around them and to share their stories and photos as evidence of a crooked authoritarian government. What started as a tribute page soon morphed into a platform for information sharing at a time when government actions were being disguised behind political jargon. “We Are All Khaled Said” became a space where citizens were now policing their government and holding it accountable. This astonishing reversal put power into the hands of the public, and gave Egyptians the moral leverage to fight back. It was time for a revolution.
While I’m not attributing the overthrow of President Mubarak to a singular person or social networking site, I am suggesting that Facebook allowed Egyptians to communicate amongst one another and organize their protests in unprecedented ways. Their communication on Facebook and social networking sites became so effective, Mubarak cut off internet services in an effort to stop those collaborating against him.
Let’s pause to think on this for a moment: Facebook, a social networking site started by some Harvard nerds is now being used to overthrow a government and revolutionize a country. Even Zuckerberg couldn’t have predicted this one.
Just under a year ago, I caught wind of a petition that was circulating the internet. The petition was a human rights petition, protesting the stoning of a woman named Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. Ashtiani was scheduled to be executed for allegedly committing adultery. The petition was forwarded to me by a professor at my university, as I was attending grad school at the time. Rather than forwarding the petition via email, I took to Facebook. I remember clearly what I posted on my Facebook profile that day: “Facebook can be used as a political tool. HELP FREE SAKINEH.” The post had a link to the online petition, and generated hundreds of signatures.
In that moment, I don’t think I fully recognized what I was doing, but something shifted within me and forever changed the way I’d approach Facebook. Why not use Facebook as a political tool? I asked myself rhetorically. I realized we could fight back. As women, as human rights activists, and as modern-day Gandhis, we could fight back.
We live in the information age: now more than ever, information is readily available and accessible for North Americans via the internet. This being said, many of us still approach Facebook with trite intentions (Yes, I’m talking to you, the girls who get dolled-up every weekend and then take posed and semi-intoxicated photos solely for the purpose of expanding your facebook photo album – We’ve all done it.) But in the wake of a revolution in the Middle East, it’s time to start focusing on the many responsible and politically potent ways social media can be used to stir social renaissance.
Yes – if used properly – Facebook can be the new free and democratic press.
Image via HONGKIAT
For those interested, due to the petition and the uprise against the Iranian government, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s execution has been stayed indefinitely.