Could modern democracy’s greatest force be the Internet and Social Media? More than elections, a governing body, and live town hall meetings? The world must really be coming to an end. The cyber world is emerging as a force to reckon with when battling the new democratic wave.
Okay, perhaps crowning the Internet as democracy’s greatest force is a slight exaggeration. Some people are calling the latest Egypt demonstrations as a direct product of the Twitter and Facebook Revolution. But, as FastCompany.com wrote, “Certainly, it takes a lot more than the 21st century version of a communication system to persuade people to take to the streets and risk harm, imprisonment, or death.” Fair elections, a responsible governing body, and civil discourse are still the essential keys a healthy democracy.
That said, social media played an integral role in the Egypt revolution. Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube did not send people out into the streets, but they undeniably accelerated the process.
Even before Egypt started blocking Twitter and Facebook, these tools were used to coordinate and spread the word about the demonstrations. Without social media, fewer people might have shown up and last Tuesday’s protests would likely be nothing more than a fading headline. In this respect, social media served as an effective organizing tool.
Social media also helped exert pressure on Washington simply because it allowed information to flow out of Egypt at a fast pace. Since Washington is a close ally of Egypt, at any other time, it probably would have spun the narrative in favor of the authority in power, in the interest of maintaining stability and its relationship. However, it would be foolish to ignore the endless details escaping the country. Whether they are truths, untruths, exaggerations, fallacies, opinions, or facts, no one can deny that a genuine uprising is taking place. Real time tweets (#egypt), live stream video, Facebook storytelling (Nick Kristof’s page), and Tumblr curation are allowing the Egypt scene to play out before our very eyes. With such vivid imagery pouring in, it would be irresponsible for Washington to downplay events and maintain a distanced posture. As a result, we’re witnessing a subtle shifting of the U.S. position, with officials declining to articulate explicit support for Mubarak.
As the revolution wears on, updates from the ground will continue to pour in and no doubt, affect US action. What better democratic force than civilians yielding a direct say on governmental policy? Who cares if it’s in less than 140 characters? Social media did not create the Egypt uprising, but it certainly made everything happen much sooner.