I have heard the unprecedented uprising in Egypt described as the ‘facebook revolution’. I wonder if Mark Zuckerberg ever envisioned his campus-related social experiment having this kind of impact. What started in Tunisia, a much smaller and previously less significant [now a benchmark] country, took just a matter of weeks to alter the balance of the middle east, perhaps permanently.
Younger generations have traditionally been the engines of revolution. This generation has radical new tools available to them in the form of internet-based communications that enable enormous change in a short amount of time. Dictators and secretive regimes around the world now have much to fear. The thing they have forever tried most to control, information, is out there for anyone with a cell phone to engage in – and that is most of the modern world.
Mubarek tried unsuccessfully to cut off internet access – technically, it can be done, but culturally it can’t. The failed effort lasted a day before everyone was back online. Remarkable in itself that pressure to do this from inside Tahrir Square and around the globe actually paid off. Duplicity was called out for what it was, and it caved. Woo hoo!
This unprecedented communication movement throws more traditional comms theory in a tailspin. No one was in charge. No one had a strong agenda they were promoting except ‘Mubarek has to go, and it must be done peacefully’. There was no calculated influence campaign, no press releases, no strategy, no talking heads on TV. The power of this movement was emotion – hope, courage, determination – and the ability to communicate those needs and feelings in real time to a huge mass of people. Granted emotion of this depth is not easily aroused, but when it is genuine, it is unstoppable.
Many questions remain, as Egyptians, other Middle Eastern nations and the rest of the world wait to see how a new order unfolds. Already this morning, one day after Mubarek left, I saw a headline about anti-government protests in Yemen, although those were evoking an aggressive government response. Do Yemenis use Facebook? What about China? How and where will this form of instant, emotional and sustained communication be used for other issues – from politics to the workplace? The potential is fascinating and unsettling. Mr. Zuckerberg, welcome to the revolution.