Social Media and the Egyptian Revolution

By Scott D’Urso

Egyptian protestors take to the streetsThe events of the past several weeks in Egypt have been nothing short of remarkable for many reasons. One of them has been the debate over the role that the Internet and Social Media played in the eventual outcome. There has been a steady stream of stories, opinions, and tweets about this subject both during, and in particular after the fact. Regardless of where one stands on the issue, the fact that there is a debate, to me, says something in and of itself.

While there are the utopian-inspired Internet supporters out there who are making the claim that this the first “Social Media Revolution,” this revolution would not have been possible without the face-to-face gatherings of the hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, not only in Cairo, but around Egypt, that were the “face” of the revolution. On the other hand, many Internet dystopians out there refuse to acknowledge the role of the Internet and Social Media — a short-sighted opinion to say the least.

Where does that leave us, particularly those that follow communication technologies, political rhetoricians, and scholars in general. I think Sam Graham-Felson, in piece for The Nation, captured it the best. His opinion falls in-between both the utopian and dystopian camps in what he calls “Cyber-Pragmatism.” The Internet and Social Media acted as new tools for the people to use in non-violent movements. Both sides in the conflict recognized the potential impact early on. Facebook and Twitter was used for both communication and organization by the protestors, while the government of Egypt attempted to shut the Internet down, and by proxy, limit the role that communication technology played in the movement.

In teaching my students this semester about how to best evaluate both communication technologies and the potential impacts they may have, both the events in Egypt and the discussion that ensued regarding the role of the Internet and Social Media have made for an amazing case study. I suspect that we will continue to see communication technology play an ever growing role as a tool of democracy, whether in movements like that in Egypt, or with everyday interactions with our own governments around the world.

Scott D’Urso is an assistant professor of Corporate Communication/Communication Studies and the major representative for Communication Studies in the Diederich College of Communication.

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The opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of Marquette University or the Diederich College of Communication.

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