Revolutions don’t just happen. It takes years of oppression, abuses, and civil unrest to mix and congest into a highly explosive material, and then the right spark needs to find it.
Wael Ghonim believes the internet provided that spark in Egypt. Ghonim is the cyber activist many credit for starting the “Revolution 2.0,” as he calls it.
Ghonim created the “We Are Khaled Said” Facebook page after the eponymous young man’s brutal death. The page helped mobilize many of Egyptian protestors into action. Other social media sites and tools kept protestors informed and united. The revolution even had its own hash-tag on Twitter (#Jan25)
“Without Facebook, without Twitter, without Google, without You Tube, this would have never happened,” says Ghonim in an AFP article. Not everyone agrees.
Micah L. Sifry of CNN argues that the role of the internet has been exaggerated. He believes the media has placed emphasis on the role of the internet because they have no idea what’s really happening in Egypt. The result is that “some shiny new tools of communication are made out to be more important than the people doing the communicating and the messages and tactics they have chosen to use.”
Sifry also points out that barely 20% of the Egyptian population has access to the internet and that the main cause of revolution were “traditional” elements like the economic recession and an increasing gap between rich and poor.
However, even Sifry admits that without the internet “young Egyptians like Ghonim could not have built the resilient and creative force that finally toppled Hosni Mubarak.”
Sifry also overlooks the role the internet played in the Iranian election protests last year and how WikiLeaks has challenged notions of security and secrecy. The internet challenges censorship in a way never seen before the new millennium.
The real question isn’t how big a role the internet played in Egypt’s revolution. The real question is how big its role will grow in future revolutions.