There has been a growing debate that seems to have heated up over the past few weeks as hordes of protesters took out to the streets in Tunisia and Egypt. The Iranian election crisis marked an inflexion point for social media, for a period of about two weeks there was sustained attention on Iran by the rest of the world. Real time and semi real time feeds and updates across several media formats and platforms were populated with on the ground citizen reports. All the hype and furore lead some to think that social media is overrated.

Events in January 2011 in both Tunisia and Egypt cemented the reality that a paradigm shift is upon us. The information age has changed and will continue to change the modus operandi of life’s facets. Timely and accurate information are now key ‘value add’ parameters in several processes across multiple domains. The Tunisian crisis seems to have been a drop in the ocean compared to the magnitude of the Egypt uprising. Egypt has at least 8 times Tunisia’s population and lies at the heart of global economics (Suez Canal) and regional stability. It has always been a centre of historic and cultural importance as well and serving as the defining point between Africa and Arabia.

For a very long time Egypt was a small and innocuous tumour, now the tumour has turned malignant and causing chaos to the political elite both nationally and internationally. Even the US administration has been forced to reconsider its warm ties with Mubarak whom the world now views as an iconoclastic dictator.

In the case of Egypt, like the previous revolutions, Facebook, Twitter and mobile phones played a pivotal role in enabling the organisation of people. Again the crucial factor here is information. When, whom, where and what to do were all facilitated and catalysed by these platforms. Yes, the underlying socio-economic variables and conditions caused the revolution, but social media catalysed it. Social media makes the world operate more efficiently. In both Tunisia and Egypt, no central leadership was involved in instilling the revolutions, they all seem to have arisen from self organised pockets of resistance that grew larger and larger making it a challenge for the incumbents because they have never experienced something of the sort, they have always thrived at silencing select opposition leaders and their leadership infrastructure but never before have they been faced with such chaos with no central command point to hit at.

Mubarak has exhausted most of the options in the dictator’s rulebook and is running out time and ideas. He enforced an internet and communication embargo and closed down the Al Jazeera Cairo Bureau. The results? Google and Twitter teamed up to setup a voice enabled tweeting service, Google is also airing Al Jazeera reports on You Tube and has setup a citizen reporting channel that is aggregating continuous reports from Egypt.

Al Jazeera have an Egypt landing page with live streams and reports from citizens on the ground. They have resorted to innovative means to circumvent their operations and beaming bans from Nilesat; an Egyptian satellite service. Al Jazeera now is aggregating content from blogs and audio reports via phones across Egypt as well. Al Jazeera has covered the crisis in Egypt with much more tenacity and effectiveness than any other media house. The best part has been the adoption of citizen journalism in their operations. Al Jazeera is now no longer a CNN/BBC clone but more of a hybrid between The Huffington Post and CNN, a hybrid that has been perfected and set new heights for the media industry.

Efforts by Al Jazeera, Google and Twitter are clear indications of the emergence of globalisation. Nations, organisations and individuals can no longer function in silos. We either have to adapt or perish. In the information age, innovation is spontaneous and at most times necessitated by need. Entities that thrive on innovating and providing value will survive the revolution.


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Social Media; Catalysis of Modern Day Revolutions



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