Social Media and Egyptian Revolution

Social Media Week New York City Goes Real-time

Egypt the oldest civilization in the world had the most civilized revolution (a quote from a friend of Parvez Sharma). While many in Egypt had limited, if any, access to social media, for those outside of Egypt, social media enabled them to gather, curate and distribute news as it unfolded. For the first time, people from geographically dispersed locations, without personal connections to the region, had a front row seat at the revolution. For these people, it became personal and they felt connected to the people in Tahrir Square in a way that the major network nightly news never managed.

With President Obama’s televised response to the Egyptian revolution playing in the background, a Social Media Week New York City (#SMWNYC) panel of media professionals gathered at Google headquarters to discuss Social Media and Egypt (#smwegypt). Reminiscent of an older generation who asked, Where were you when Kennedy was shot?, Anthony De Rosa of Reuters opened the timely panel by asking How did you learn about Murbarak’s resignation?

Outside of Egypt, many discovered the news about Mubarak via their Twitter feeds as tweet after tweet repeated the news, and this panel was no different. It’s an important distinction that news is now first discovered, curated and shared among influencers, colleagues and friends. Traditional news outlets no longer have sole guardianship of our information flow. Rather we collect news from a variety of trusted sources. In lieu of a fact checker, we rely on the self-correcting wisdom of crowds that can quickly out any misrepresentation Wikipedia-style.

Roughly 40% of Egypt’s 80 million people live below the poverty line on about $2.00 a day. Still, 75% of Egyptians own a mobile phone although only a relative handful have smartphones. Further, 5 million Egyptians are on Facebook but only a tiny percentage are on Twitter. Therefore, panelist Parvez Sharma was concerned that the Egyptian revolution be named a people’s revolution, not a social media revolution, since only a handful of Egyptians tweeted and/or used Facebook to share information. Rather, social media was a conduit for expanding outside interest. It’s an important moment of social media introspection for people in the region to consider how they’ll use these tools.

Social media didn’t start the revolution; it amplified it for people outside of Egypt and made it a global event. According to Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, people used cellphones to text and call others who tweeted their messages for them. Social media is about global, real-time communication. If you know someone in the region, you reach out and interact with them. Further, if you’re motivated, you can always find a way to get your message out even when the government shuts the Internet down.

Glynnis MacNicol pointed out that the issue wasn’t how many people tweeted from within Egypt but rather how many people they reached outside of Egypt. Through Twitter, Egyptians got the mainstream media’s attention, a fact that shouldn’t be underestimated. With social media, there’s an immediacy that bubbles up. If you watch Twitter influencers, and they talk about something, you know these events will be on nightly news. (Here’s Twitter research on influence.) Further, the very nature of media journalism changes as you participate in social media and have constant connection to what’s happening from people on the scene.

How these events evolve will be exciting to watch and engage with. While Al-Jazeera televised the Egyptian revolution, the audience was driven there via Twitter. The Egyptian revolution will be a tipping point for this media entity, the way that Dessert Storm was a turning point for CNN. It will be interesting to see how Al-Jazeera continues to evolve. Will they be given a slot on American cable channels?

How did you find out about Mubarak’s resignation? How has your involvement in social media influenced your perspective and why? How do you feel about how social media has caused traditional media to evolve?

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Hat tip to a wonderful, well-information and timely panel (#smwegypt): Anthony De Rosa of Reuters (@antderosa ), Glynnis MacNicol (@GlynnMacN ) of The Wire, part of Business Insider, Peter Feld (@PeterFeld) a freelance writer, Parvez Sharma (@ParvezSharma), an award winning film maker, and Ahmed Shihab-Eldin (@shihabeldin) of Al-Jazeera. Also, to Emily Gannett of IRL Productions who coordinated the panel.

Other references:

Other Social Media Week New York City event coverage:

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