Zeynep Tufekci applies the "iron law of oligarchy" to the Egyptian revolution:

What I found is that @ghonim, or Wael Ghonim, and @ElBaradei, Mohamed El-Baradei, are both definitely showing a different kind of growth-pattern compared to every other person of influence I have tested them against in this portion of the twitter-verse. Of course, you can see this pattern without any quantitative analysis; Ghonim is the one that has been crowned the “leader of the leaderless revolution” by Newsweek and he’s the one who is tweeting about meeting with top generals in the military.

By all accounts, Wael Ghonim deserves an important leadership role. I absolutely do not mean for this post to be taken as a personal assessment of any leader of this nascent revolution. In fact, the point is that it does not matter who they are. ...

However, Ghonim and other emerging leaders of this revolution would be well-advised to keep in mind that social media not only do not guard against one of the strongest findings of sociology called the “iron law of oligarchy,” they may even facilitate it. The iron law of oligarchy works rather simply.  Basically, take an organization. Any organization. Stir a bit. Wait. Not too long. Watch a group of insiders emerge and vigorously defend their turf, and almost always succeed.

She expands the post to understand what social media can and can't do:

If the nascent revolutionaries in Egypt are successful in finding ways in which a movement can leverage social media to remain broad-based, diffused and participatory, they will truly help launch a new era beyond their already remarkable achievements. Such a possibility, however, requires a clear understanding of how networks operate and an explicit aversion to naïve or hopeful assumptions about how structures which allow for horizontal congregation will necessarily facilitate a future that is non-hierarchical, horizontal and participatory.

 

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.