The Iranian Elections and the events unfolding over the Sprig of 2011 most conveniently dubbed as The Arab Spring set about a catharsis of the so called ‘social media revolutions’. Well social media certainly is revolutionary and without a shadow of doubt, social media has significantly contributed to modern day revolutions. Nonetheless this does not give the license to some intransigent few to misuse social media under the guise of stirring revolutions.

Now just over a week ago a so-called revolution was hot off the press in Kenya complete with a protest and audience with the Kenyan prime minister. The hashtag #UngaRevolution occasionally blared through our streams. Towards the end of the week, I stumbled upon a news report blatantly giving an analysis and blowing the trumpets of #UngaRevolution. How can success be gauged in 1 week? Any way, long story short, that particular report stroked a nerve and led to this post. The following are my two cents worth of wisdom on social media and revolutions: -

1. Social media is the catalyst/messenger: Social media just makes it easier for people to communicate and self organise. Nonetheless the underpinnings of social media are exactly the same as in real world physical social structures and networks. Social media just catalyses the growth and demise of cliques and circles. Thus, you put out garbage in social media you eventually get garbage out of social media, you put pertinent issues across, you get pertinent and pragmatic results

2. Goals: Look at the French revolution, Tunisia, Egypt and the likes. These revolutions were driven on a tangible set of goals and measures put in place to achieve them. These goals must address pertinent issues affecting a sizeable proportion of the society.

3. Leadership: A function of the previous point. Leaders work to achieve certain visions and goals guided by certain principles. Che Guevara in Cuba and South America, Wael Ghonim in Egypt, the Libyan Council in Libya and so on and so forth. Leaders personify a movement at high times and encourage and motivate people at the low times. Leadership should not be confused for activism, the latter is short lived! Activists deservedly have their place in life and can be used to amplify certain aspects of a revolution but without doubt activists cannot lead revolutions for they’ll soon get derailed by their ‘activisimania’ (read ADHD) and move on to another hot topic or crisis steering them away from the true north of the revolution.

4. Followers: Without worker bees there will be no honey! Who buys in to the vision? Who sacrifices to achieve goals? Are there sub-leadership roles within the movement? Can these followers recruit more followers?

5. Leverage: What bargaining power do you have with the other party or parties? How does your movement continuously build up leverage? What happens if your demands are not met? Again this is another important point that distinguishes revolutionaries from activists. Revolutionaries have a game plan, activists do not and that what made Tahrir rock!

In conclusion, my main argument is that for revolutions to be sustained and for a movement to be built there has to be some semblance of synergy across the revolutionary machinery and system. Leaders and the leadership structures have to be in tune with the demands of the masses across the board. They need to identify what groups are affected, how they are affected, what makes these groups different, what is common in these groups e.t.c. Most importantly certain structures have to be put in place to sustain the movement and at times the leadership must align itself to the true north of the movement. There might be some elements of luck, randomness and self-organisation in the brewing of revolutions, but without that sustained fire, the tea shall not brew and manna shall not fall!


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This is sort of like what Malcolm Gladwell said. You can’t start a revolution purely on social media, there has to be a convergence of factors. While Tunisia and Egypt were hailed as ‘social media revolutions’, they were more like ‘people-using-social-media-as-tools-for-organization-and-coordination revolutions’. Case in point, Egypt still had subsequent protests after the main ‘revolution’ was over…

Mugendi added these pithy words on Jun 07 11 at 12:02

i like what you have said, soud! until we get onto the streets we’ll just be angry people in front of our computers in dark rooms.

Asif Khan added these pithy words on Jun 07 11 at 12:11

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