Important Lessons From EgyptJanuary 29, 2011 - Author: newscoma - Comments are closed
Egypt, in many ways, changed the news quite a bit this week. For many, it will be a subtle change although I tend to think it is more significant than most people.It’s been happening for some time but this week it has opened up further conversation of how communication has evolved. I watched the Twitter stream for the past three days as we watched Egypt explode following the path of Tunisia just by watching the hashtag #Egypt.
These tools weren’t available five years ago.
We watched a government fall. And the power of the Internet was so frightening that the Egyptian government pulled the plug.
Let’s recap: the fear of what real citizens were saying had Mubarak say “kill the access to communicate.” A new world, though, worked around it. When Internet capabilities failed, protesters moved on to actually faxing information.
The key is that we saw this happen to a lesser degree in Tunisia in regards to social media. And it was social media that brought a news story to the world where at times yesterday it was trending here in Tennessee.
A world watched and waited for recaps of what was happening in the Middle East.
Revolution happens all the time. We saw a hike in the use of social media during the Iranian elections in the past as well as other issues. Nashville was extremely effective during the floods last spring. It works despite what some people might think.
I saw a cranky newsman on CNN say that social media didn’t have anything to do with the protests this morning. Although the Internet was shut down yesterday, protesters had organized and planned to a degree before their online access was denied. The protests continued. And although there was lack of access, information still was leaked and the world watched. Protesters even went old school and started faxing when they no longer had access to their laptops and phones.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the past couple of weeks. Smart phones reside in most people’s pockets. That wasn’t a reality five years ago but basically you can have a TracPhone now and it accesses the Internet. iPads weren’t around even 18 months ago. Twitter, in my opinion, didn’t really take off until Michael Jackson died and Ashton Kucher decided that he needed a hundred gazillion followers. Others may look at it differently but that’s when I realized that Twitter was designed for news despite itself.
And I’ve been watching the Egyptian protests on Al Jazeera who have been incredible during this time. And if you want to know how small the world is, University of Tennessee at Martin graduate and former Nashvillian Dana Franks, who works in news in Iowa now, had one of her tweets spotlighted on the channel last night.Franks used to be the online producer for WKRN. You can read that here.
I used to write at a website called NewsTechZilla. Two years ago, I wrote about what it meant to be a Citizen Journalist, which is a term that is no longer used. I read that post this morning and realized that even in a 24 month period of time that technology has evolved even further.
From the Washington Post this morning on the United States, Tunisia and social media:
Social media and hand-held communication devices are spreading so quickly that U.S. officials are struggling to keep up. In the past two years, the number of cellphones worldwide grew by about one-fifth, to more than 5 billion.
According to the Atlantic magazine, Tunisian officials attempted to steal the passwords of every Facebook user in the country during the demonstrations. Facebook made technical changes to frustrate the hacking. Meanwhile, U.S. officials in Washington and Tunis pressed Tunisian officials to halt the attacks.
This month, the State Department laid out plans to spend $30 million on such programs as training activists on how to avoid being censored, and providing Web-based technology to break through government firewalls. The money, appropriated in 2010, is a 600 percent increase from the previous year.
Of course then Joe Lieberman introduced legislation this week for, you got it, a bill that is rather sketchy in details. The principal of the bill is shut down the Internet in case there is a cyber-security threat from a foreign entity using cyberterrorism. The bill, however, is shaky because are we sure that would be the only time it would shut down. I remain unconvinced. And the timing of Senate bill 3480 could not be better for having a conversation about this.
In 2009, senator Jay Rockefeller sponsored a bill to give the president the right to “order the disconnection” of “critical infrastructure information systems or networks.” That went nowhere, but now there’s Senate bill 3480, the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010. As its sponsor, Senator Joe Lieberman, told CNN, the bill will allow for the president to order Internet service providers to “disconnect the American Internet from all traffic coming in from another foreign country.”
Let’s keep in mind that the the hashtag #Egypt is not trending in China as the government has blocked it.
China has blocked the word “Egypt” from the country’s wildly popular Twitter-like service, while coverage of the political turmoil has been tightly restricted in state media.
China’s ruling Communist Party is sensitive to any potential source of social unrest.
A search for “Egypt” on the Sina microblogging service brings up a message saying, “According to relevant laws, regulations and policies, the search results are not shown”.
The service has more than 50 million users.
It’s a lot to think about. One thing is for certain and that is a simple lesson that social media, although still mocked and used incorrectly by so many, is powerful be it for marketing, self-promotion or just general conversation. I tend to think that Twitter is an organic beast in many ways.
And that is why that we have been watching protesters, tired of living in poverty, rise up against a government that let them down by letting the world know that they were mad as hell and they weren’t going to take it anymore. And they laid out their plan even after the Internet was taken away.
That is significant.