Social Media in the Egyptian Revolution:Reconsidering Resource Mobilization Theory (2-3)
This article by Nahed Eltantawy and Julie B. Wiest from High Point University seeks to open dialogue about the utility of resource mobilization theory in explaining social movements and their impact by exploring the use of social media in the 2011 Egyptian revolution through a limited case study analysis. It argues that social media played an instrumental role in the success of the anti-government protests that led to the resignation of the country’s dictatorial leader, and calls for further examination of the proposed incorporation of social media as an important resource for collective action and the organization of contemporary social movements.
Other activists used Twitter and Facebook to generate international attention and interest in the revolution. They posted pictures and videos depicting revolution events and updates, as well as information about police torture of protesters—and the world paid attention. UN Dispatch News published an online article entitled “10 must-follow Twitter feeds for Egyptian protests”. Because of activists’ minute-by-minute updates via social media outlets, many Egyptians and foreigners abroad stayed informed of the developments in Egypt. For example, one activist, who tweets and blogs under the name Crowds avoiding oncoming tear gas and police in Tahrir. Another Twitter user tweeted a plea to foreign media to bring international attention to the protests:
Once again, social media introduced a powerful mobilization resource that protesters utilized to address the world while events were unfolding. This is a significant development in social mobilization, as it was the protesters themselves who disseminated information, pictures, and videos—not just reporters and group leaders. When the government banned reporters from Tahrir Square in an effort to prevent news from spreading to the world, social media technologies enabled protesters to become citizen journalists.
When the Mubarak regime realized the power and speed of social media technologies and their extraordinary capacity for organization among activists, it cut off Internet and cellular phone communication across Egypt on January 28. As soon as activists recognized the government’s plan, they turned to Facebook, Twitter, and blogs to alert the outside world. One Facebook user posted this message on ElBaradei’s page on the evening of January 27:
Starting tomorrow morning, all the foreigners in Egypt won’t be able to communicate with their countries back home, because the Egyptian president gave his orders to cut and stop all kind of communications, he doesn’t want the whole world to see what he will be doing to his own nation, what kind of president is this? Please spread the word.
Additionally, The Arabist, a website on Arab politics and culture, posted warnings on the communication blackout:
I just received a call from a friend in Cairo telling me neither his DSL nor his USB internet service is working. I’ve just checked with two other friends in different parts of Cairo and their internet is not working either. This just happened 10 minutes ago — and perhaps not un-coincidentally just after AP TV posted a video of a man being shot. The ISPs being used by my friends are TEDATA, Vodafone, and Egynet.
Although the Internet was disabled for almost five days, some activists still managed to get their message out, again with the aid of social media. Within Egypt, efforts included the following post by a blogger who published instructions for using a dial-up connection for Internet access:
OK, it may sound crazy but I think I found a possible solution to connect to the Internet even through the cut off. The solution is by going back to the basics. So instead of connecting to the local Egyptian ISPs . . . we will try to by pass it and connect to
According to Zirulnick, other Egyptians managed to access Twitter by using proxies, or by calling friends abroad from landlines and asking them to tweet messages. The #Jan 25 hash tag—the designated symbol for the day’s protests—was being used in more than 25 unique tweets per minute that day. According to Zirulnick, “Many of those still seemed to be coming from Cairo and other parts of Egypt. Tweets are filled with everything from warnings of tear gas to notifications of free food being handed out to protesters”. Other efforts to maintain communication via social media during the Internet disruption included the “speak to tweet” initiative, created by a team of engineers from Twitter,
Google, and SayNow, which enabled activists to call with voice messages that were instantly turned into Twitter messages.
These combined efforts and creative trials enabled a continued flow of communication, while maintaining speed and interactivity. One blog that included frequent Twitter updates from local protesters proclaimed: “great news, blackout not affecting morale in Cairo, veteran activists from 60s and 70s giving advice on how to do things predigital #Jan25”.The Huffington Post also posted tweets sent from Egypt and reported: “Despite the crackdowns, there are still some who have found a way to Twitter in Egypt, and they’re describing the violence and events that have occurred”
“Tahrir is chaotic now. Fire everywhere. People are gathered there and extreme noise that I can’t tell what [it] is at the moment #Jan25”.
Although significant, social media clearly were not the only force driving the revolution. This became especially evident when government efforts to weaken the protesters’ efforts through a mass communication blackout appeared to only strengthen the protesters’ determination and increase the numbers of Egyptians joining the struggle. By that point, social media were not as critical to the protests, given that the majority of protesters were already out on the streets and able to utilize other, more proximate resources. Beaumont reported that “what social media was replaced by then—oddly enough—was the analogue equivalent of Twitter: handheld signs held aloft at demonstrations saying where and when people should gather the next day.” In other words, this revolution might have been nurtured online, but it was never reserved to a single communication medium. Social media played a major role throughout the planning and organization phases, and also throughout the revolution, but other means of communication contributed as well. A BBC report explained:
I was in Tahrir Square on Sunday: everywhere you look there are mobile phones, handwritten placards, messages picked out in stones and plastic tea cups, graffiti, newspapers and leaflets, not to mention al-Jazeera’s TV cameras which broadcast hours of live footage from the square every day. When one channel of communication is blocked, people try another.
By Alula Berhe Kidani, 20/06/2012