A Social Media Revolution: The Egypt Protests and the Role of New Media

This piece was originally published on the Saxum Perspective Blog.

On June 4, 2009, President Obama gave his famous Cairo speech. Obama has been branded the President of change and with the recent protests in Tunisia, and now Egypt, it’s obvious the Middle East is hungry for change.

In the President’s Cairo speech, he preached about the important pursuit of certain freedoms.

The following is an excerpt from his speech:

“There are some who advocate for democracy only when they’re out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power: You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.”

While some have claimed the President’s words may have influenced recent uprisings, the will of the people has truly been driven by the desire for change and true reform.

The freedom of the press is important to any democracy. The recent protests have unleashed a global discussion on the vital role media plays during times of strife and struggle against a censored society.

Al Jazeera, a regional media powerhouse in the Middle East is the trusted news source by Arabs, and one could argue that they and their English counterpart, Al Jazeera English, is trusted by Muslims and Arabs all around the world.

While state-sponsored media was reporting that anti-Mubarak protesters were inciting violence in “Liberation Square,” independent news sources like Al Jazeera were exposing the truth about pro-Mubarak aggressors on the internet and social media platforms.

For instance, journalist’s use of Twitter allowed for instant, on-the-ground reporting informing the world about the realities of the protests.

An Al Jazeera English reporter, who has tweeted since the protest began on Jan. 25, Ayman Mohyeldin, has kept his followers (more than 19,000) informed with breaking news about attacks on his colleagues and other journalists. He also exposed the Egyptian government’s restrictions on the media and the Internet in attempts to silence reporters.

Here are a few of his posts:

@AymanM Internet still down in #egypt, will continue to tweet via phone calls when possible #jan25

@AymanM 3 #aljazeera journalists arrested in #egypt 1 #aljazeera journalist still missing #jan25 #tahrir

The Egyptian army recently detained Ayman. A popular hashtag, #freeayman, was being retweeted calling for his release. While Ayman was detained, his friend began tweeting on his behalf. He was later released and continues to cover the protest.

Daily News Egypt, Egypt’s only independent newspaper in English, kept readers informed through their presence on Twitter. When their website was down they posted the following message on their page.

@DailyNewsEgypt We are facing technical difficulties. If our website is down, check our blog; it has most of our stories from today. http://bit.ly/fIixwJ

Daily News Egypt used social media to drive readers to other sources of information while their webpage was under cyber attack.

The internet has been an incredible source of information. There are a number of Egyptian bloggers who have faced police intimidation because of their determination to spread news. While internet service has been interrupted, journalists and bloggers have relied on cell phone technology to disseminate news and information.

Demonstrators also took advantage of their cell phones, sharing messages through texts, photos and video messaging.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper hosted an entire show using webcam technology from an undisclosed location near Tahrir Square. When their high quality cameras were damaged and confiscated, the crew used Flip cameras to capture and report on the coverage.

These are just a few examples of the uses of social media and new technologies to share information during conflicts. There is no doubt new media has played an imperative role in the ongoing coverage of the Egypt protests and I would guess this is just the beginning. While traditional media outlets may move on to cover the next “big story,” social media and the internet will allow demonstrators to continue sharing their perspectives with the world.

Submitted by Houda Elyazgi. Elyazgi is a senior account executive at Saxum Public Relations in Oklahoma City. Elyazgi manages several accounts, conducts research, writes and develops campaign strategies and plans special events for clients. Elyazgi graduated with distinctions from The University of Oklahoma with a bachelor’s in journalism and mass communications with an emphasis in public relations and a minor in Arabic. She is currently a member of the board of directors of United Way of Norman.

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