Social Media and Political Uprisings

Distorting Digital Censorship

In Ali and El-Sharnouby’s article dealing with Egypt’s youth and their actions against an authoritarian state through social media, they begin by stating that the youth make up most of the population. With the rise of social media activism such as the “We are all Khaled Said”(WAAKS) movement, the youth population has succeeded to cause political change with the fall of Mubarak while also failing to address the very issues that plague the young demographic, in which WAAKS unfortunately did not. The WAAKS Facebook page that sparked outrage to end the Emergency Law, which stated that the police practically held unchecked power, attacked the governmental policies that affected acts of police brutality and it ultimately succeeded.

Where the WAAKS failed was how it did not discuss the socioeconomic and political problems that affected the youth during their daily lives. This can be seen in the life of Khaled Said, the martyr and icon for the WAAKS movement. The social media movement had recreated and repackaged Khaled Said from a young man that was surrounded by a poor socio-economic environment, drug abuse, and loneliness to a middle class savvy intellectual that could resonate with the youth population online and across Egypt. All of the personal issues that Khaled faced in his own life became lost through his transformation into martyr for a political movement that succeeded in bringing attention to the Emergency Law while also not going far enough and only remaining focused on the outcome of Khaled’s life. Although I think the image change of Khaled Said was unintentional, the movement did ultimately achieve its goal of bringing widespread attention to police torture and towards more actions against ending the Emergency Rule. It is really unfortunate that Khaled Said’s personal life was washed away during WAAKS time and as time passes by, I believe more people will realize his personal sacrifice that evolved into a political statement.

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Social Media Networks and the Egyptian Revolution

Faris begins by explaining the importance of Social Media Networks such as Facebook and Twitter and how they are an incredibly powerful communications tool that can reach out to thousands of people in a matter of seconds. Social Media Networks allow activists to gather groups for rallies and protests without the need for money or expensive communications tools as Facebook and Twitter can be reached very easily through different mediums that are widely available. Additionally, it is also a powerful tool against authoritarian regimes. For example, the article states that social media was used to trick the Egyptian regime of planned protests and then they quickly relocated the protests last minute in order to avoid any violent or major conflicts with the government.

Another example that is shown in the article is through the Kefaya, which like the We Are All Khaled Said movement, protested against the end of the Emergency Rule. The Kefaya movement helped connect old protestor figures and new digital activists against the authoritarian regime. Anyone can start a digital activist movement and Faris states that even though the WAAKS Facebook page was started by a Google Executive in Dubai, these new technologies helped spark widespread political actions that probably would not have been possible if they did not exist. To me, this article looked at the positive effects that social media has and how it has transformed digital and street protests. What I found most interesting was when Faris stated that the January 25 protests could have taken place without the use of digital technologies, but that would have greatly changed the outcome. Communication mediums such as Twitter and Facebook that allow rapid conversation have no question elevated social and political involvement and uprisings against authoritarian regimes. egyptian_revolution_002_by_cyg_x_1-d38mdg0.jpg

-Ivan Palacio

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Social Media and Political Uprisings

Social Media: A Catalyst For Change

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Social media networks have given power to the individual, particularly the youth. With a digital tool that is safe and easy to use, activists have the ability to use social media networks to communicate with large numbers of people, and ignite a revolution, in authoritarian countries. This was the case for a repressive Egypt, where social movements like Kefaya (The Egyptian Movement for Change) and the April 6th Youth Movement, paved the way for one of the recent important digital forms of activism which was a catalyst for the Egyptian Revolution, the “We Are All Khaled Said” (WAAKS) youth movement.

For a long time, the youth in Egypt has had a tapestry of unanswered problems which has resulted from the ruling of the National Democratic Party (NDP) under Hosni Mubarak. The youth, that encompass the majority of the population, has been constantly marginalized and repressed both on the political and economic scale. But, the final straw came on June 6, 2010 when Khaled Said became a martyr after his gruesome death at the hands of two police officers.

Khaled Said’s death is one of the many unfortunate examples of Egypt’s harsh authoritarian regime, specifically pertaining to the Emergency Law. His death was one that many Egyptian citizens could relate to, thus the name of the famous Facebook page, “We Are All Khaled Said.” What made this campaign have such a national impact was the role that social media played. By using an online platform, like Facebook, to discuss the harsh realities that the Egyptian youth face, WAAKS created a campaign that was not going to be ignored.

Even though the WAAKS youth movement caused attention, as Ali and El-Sharnouby pointed out, “…people are still waiting for their problems to be addressed.” Even after the January 25 Revolution, Egyptian youths still face many unanswered problems including low-quality education, no steady income and employment, drug abuse, etc. There is definitely still so much to be done in the fight against Egypt’s repressive authoritarian regime but social media networks have illustrated that youth can use these digital tools to share their problems and move toward change.

 

Social Media: A Catalyst For Change

Revolutions are becoming socially mediated, but is there a hidden agenda behind the technology?

The class readings regarding social media revolutions and the distortion of digital citizenship, really opened my eyes to the harsh reality of Egyptian youth and the expansiveness of media technology. For instance, the way that the youths of Egypt used social medias like Facebook to both reach and inform people, who would never know of or truly understand the atrocities that young people face, in countries that lack human rights for its citizens, is amazing and would probably never occur without the expansive capabilities of the internet. However, I do feel that the youth movement that started “We Are All Khalid Said” (WAAKS) was wrong for their portrayal of Said, as a martyr, to support their politically driven agenda. From my understanding, Said was not an activist of any social movement to overturn Mubarak or to thwart the Emergency Law that plagued the youths of Egypt. He was just a youth, that’s it. A young man who lived in a country that treated its youths, as if they were a burden to society. In some way, WAAKS portrayal of Khaled Said, as a saint who could do no wrong, is similar to how the youths of Egypt are portrayed as a problem to society.

While the youth movements of Egypt gain attention for their means, the reality of what is truly epidemic, that is the marginalization of Egyptian society economically and the current disadvantaged state of both the middle- and lower-classes, are not being addressed. I think that in order for the youth movements to have a greater impact on not only the Egyptian society, but also on societies from around the world, it is important that these digitalized movements address the more rooted problems that have affected the country of Egyptian for centuries, not just recently. It seems as if those who are using digital media to gain attention and inform others, are simply using predominant problems that effect both themselves and a more specified grouping of society. However, my question is if the youth movements in Egypt were to expand their agendas to address the whole of society and the human rights brutalities they all face collectively, would those involved in such movements eventually lose their anonymity and become more susceptible to brutalities against their livelihood, both individually and socially? With this said, one could conclude that the reasoning behind the specificity of the digitalized youth movements, is to the extent to which they can begin to address the many problems that face their society, without feeling personally susceptible to the atrocities their people endure, due to the exploitation of power by the hierarchy.

Revolutions are becoming socially mediated, but is there a hidden agenda behind the technology?

Digital Organization under Authoritarian Regimes

Throughout both Faris and Ali & El-Sharnouby’s articles, it’s clear that the internet, and specifically social media sites, provide a platform for repressed people to quickly, cheaply, and efficiently organize under a specific issue rather than resorting to traditional activist efforts of organizing in a physical space. Faris talks about the formation of Kefaya in Egypt and the struggles they originally faced in opposition to an authoritarian regime. Attendance rates were low, and due to gender-based violence, many women activists refrained from protesting.

Social media sites are widely accessible and provide a platform for anonymity, but it is also important to note that although social media activism in these environments can be extremely effective, campaigns can be easily skewed. Faris accentuates the point that in these online campaigns, there are many leaders. Perhaps with many leaders comes a wider chance for a movement’s main focus to shift in order to fit the group’s agenda. In the case of We Are All Khaled Said, Ali & El-Sharnouby comment that WAAKS struggles between the true testimony of Said’s beating and the mythic portrayal of a martyr of police brutality that had been associated with Said both on Facebook and in conversation surrounding the campaign.

Ali & El-Sharnouby appear very concerned with this disconnect and make the point that regardless of whether Said was or was not the martyr that WAAKS claims him to be, digital campaigns such as WAAKS are simply unable to fully grasp the social and cultural context of these events. They suggest that Egyptian youth culture and activism does not tackle the uncomfortable, underlying social issues of alienation, substance abuse, religious extremism, unemployment, poor education, etc. and are instead idealizing social change through “heroic stories of martyrdom and sacrifice” (Ali & El-Sharnouby, 90).

Digital Organization under Authoritarian Regimes