The 'Twitter Revolution' Debate: The Egyptian Test Case

How are social networks affecting the demonstrations

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The role of social networking tools in political uprisings is spurring renewed debate in wake of Egypt's current unrest. Back in 2009, a number of pundits dubbed Iran's election protests the "Twitter Revolution" due to the flurry of organizing that occurred on the micro-blogging service.  That argument later fell out of fashion. Now, Egypt's unprecedented move to shut down the country's Internet has given some credence to web evangelists defending the role of social networks. Are social networks having a greater impact in Egypt than they did in Iran?

  • Twitter and Facebook Have Been Essential  "In the case of Egypt it really played a critical factor in getting out the word on how to organize," says Mohammed Jamjoom at CNN. "There was was one group in Egypt that was one of the key groups in getting people out on the street. ... Last week in a matter of days they went from 20,000 fans to 80,000 fans ... We can see that these sites were used in order to get the word out about how to bypass checkpoints, how to get across bridges, how to get to places where people wanted to demonstrate. So it was a critical tool in getting people out into the streets."
  • I Disagree, writes Anne Applebaum at The Washington Post: "Note that the Egyptian government's decision to shut down the country's Internet access over the weekend--something it can do because Internet access is still so limited--had almost no impact on the demonstrators. For all the guff being spoken about Twitter and social media, the uprising in Cairo appears to be a very old-fashioned, almost 19th-century revolution: People see other people going out on the streets and decide to join them."
Technology has always been involved in modern revolutions... Text-messaging helped spawn a revolution a decade ago in the Philippines. After television broadcasts of President Estrada being acquitted of corruption, residents took to their mobile phones texting their outrage. The streets of Manila quickly filled, forcing the president to resign... The 1979 Iranian revolution was “closely linked” to the audiocassette... Tiananmen was called the “Fax Revolution” because “the rest of the world was better informed than the rest of the neighborhood, because of the fax machine.” Now, there’s Twitter and Facebook. Clearly, those tools have aided this year’s uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen — despite access to them being limited or suppressed.
  • What's the Point of Arguing About This? asks new media guru Jeff Jarvis on CNN: "This debate about the chicken and egg question and Twitter and revolutions is not unlike that around Gutenberg's press and the Reformation. It's really a rather meaningless debate. The point is, if the Internet didn't matter the Egyptian government wouldn't have felt it necessary to shut it down. China today would not have blocked Twitter-like searches for the word Egypt."
  • Ultimately, Mubarak Shot Himself in the Foot By Shutting Down the Net, writes a reader at Talking Points Memo: "Twitter and Facebook can bring people together, but once they connect they have the opportunity to establish other methods of contact. Mubarak was safe while people were sitting on their butts twittering. He is much less safe now he has taken away Twitter and forced them to come out into the streets."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.