If there was any doubt about the importance of the internet and social networking all you need to do is look at what has unfolded in Egypt over the past week. Although it is not the first time the internet and social media have been used to organize protests and rallies it may be the first time that it has been used as the staging ground of a revolution.
For all the bad things you can think about when it comes to the internet it is hard to deny that the internet has provided people with ability to change the outcome of the course of history. Over the past few years we have been witness to the power of the internet. In 2009 after the Presidential elections in Iran we watched as thousands of protesters took to the street denouncing the election. What made this protest so different was the dependence on social-networking for communication with each other and the outside world. The protest was actually dubbed the “Twitter Revolution” because of the protesters’ reliance on Twitter.
President Obama could not have become president if it was not for his campaign’s mastery of internet campaigning. Although he is not the first politician to use the internet, Obama has been the most successful to date. He not only used the internet to raise money but to spread his message, rebuttal criticism, advertise, communicate directly with his base and most importantly he was able to gather an army of supporters to put the boots on the ground so to speak, to knock on doors and spread his message across the United States. Obama energized the youth who saw him not as some untouchable elite who was out of touch with modern times. They saw him as one of them using his Blackberry, YouTube and social media like they did with their friends and peers. Obama was one of them.
No story of the internet’s ability to organize would be complete without talking about the Tea Party movement in the United States. Despite running candidates and trying to take over Washington DC, the Tea Party is not a political party like the Democrats or Republicans. The Tea Party is a grassroots movement that is more a coalition of conservative-leaning Americans who feel that they were not supported by any political party in the United States. The Tea Party’s number one political figure, Sarah Palin has used Social Media and the internet to carefully craft her message. She only gives interviews to media outlets that are friendly to her message, so when she is not being thrown softballs by Fox News pundits, she can be found commenting from her Facebook page, Twitter account or email list. The internet has changed the way Americans will play politics forever.
In Egypt, where the protesters are calling on the removal of the 30 year dictator Hosni Mubarak, it was not the poor, uneducated masses that started this revolution. It was the educated, connected and youthful who have decided enough was enough. They used social-networking to coordinate their actions and now as the world awaits the outcome. It is the internet that keeps people updated, not day by day or hour by hour as part of some news cycle, but second by second thanks to social media. The internet is playing such a vital role in information flow that China has blocked all information about the uprising out of fears of similar events unfolding there.