Gini Dietrich

Social Media In Egypt

By: Gini Dietrich | February 1, 2011 | 

By now you’ve certainly heard what’s going on in Egypt. A protest to topple their long-serving president that seems to have begun because of the cost of food.

It’s sickening to me that looters are invading the museums and ruining history. There is a time and place for peaceful protests. But people taking advantage and doing damage that can’t be undone? Despicable. Not to mention people who are being hurt, or even dying, because of the unrest.

It’s definitely a life most of us can’t imagine. I live in America. The land of the free. The land of greed. The land of entitlement. The government shutting off my Internet access and iPhone? Unheard of!

What’s even more interesting to me, though, is the use of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to speed the process of protests in Egypt. There has been some backlash about the use of social media, with some pundits calling it a “Facebook Revolution,” as if without Facebook this wouldn’t be happening.

Let’s be real. The revolt still would have happened. But in this day of real-time communication, word of the January 25 protests spread more quickly and gained momentum that would have been hard to achieve without the social networks.

I’m reminded of the Malcolm Gladwell piece that ran in The New Yorker in early October last year. In it, he describes 1960s North Carolina where a Woolworth’s wouldn’t serve black students. The story goes that the protest to not allow blacks to sit at the bar, but instead stand at the snack counter, began with four students and, the next day, grew to 27.

During the following days, the sit-ins eventually grew to 600 people and more than five colleges taking part. Soon 70,000 students were involved and thousands were arrested and even thousands more were radicalized.

He says, ‘These events in the early sixties became a civil-rights war that engulfed the South for the rest of the decade—and it happened without e-mail, texting, Facebook, or Twitter.”

While I disagree with the rest of his view on the use of social media in today’s w0rld, he eventually gets to the point that we are not in the middle of a digital revolution. And, whether you use the tools or not, you have to agree that the revolt in Egypt would have happened without social media. The use of the tools just speeds the process.

But it also leads us to wonder…is the use of the Internet, and social media, a human right?

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • lisarobbinyoung

    We have to remember that not everywhere is “free speech” allowed. we call it a human right, but in many parts of the world, it’s still squelched.

    So in terms of being allowed to speak freely, perhaps social media amplifies out human rights, but we are in no way (IMHO) entitled to use them.

  • ginidietrich

    @lisarobbinyoung Your comment made me just think of something. LOTS of people don’t have access to blogs and the social networks at work. Where do we draw the line between freedom of speech and entitlement?

  • C_Pappas

    A human right? Lisa is right in saying that ‘rights’ differ country to country. Is it the government’s right to take away social media priveldges of the the country because they are scared of the potential mass perception and destruction that could cause? Its an interesting question and me, like you Gini, live in the US where I have never had anything taken from me (unless I didnt pay my internet bill) but we havent necessarily been placed in a situation like Egypt either.

    I feel that when people (err…government) are uncomfortable with something, they shut it down because they are simply scared of the potential and dont know what to do with social media especially making it so easy to spread uncensored acts to a global audience.

  • NancyMyrland

    Interesting question. Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled, and in whose exercise a government may not interfere, including the right of expression, the right of thought, the right of freedom, ext. Given that definition, then it could be said that the Egyptian government, the Chinese government and so many more are, indeed, standing in the way of people expressing themselves. If they had cut off phone use, whether landline or cell phones, it might be easier to say how dare they, they are jeopardizing the people’s safety by not allowing them to communicate with those they need, or who need them. If it was the U.S. and this happened, then it would be even easier to declare this as restricting human rights. After all, if we are human, we have the right to pursue those communication and educational tools which are available to us, which includes internet service, so how dare the government take away something that was available yesterday in order to brainwash and mold the way I think? I would have to say that yes, the internet and social media are my rights as a human being if they are available for my use. To take them away from me, or any human being, could easily be considered taking away human rights.

  • In Europe access to internet has been declared a human right. As more and more states (France, Germany) are threatening cutting internet access over illegal downloads, many European legislators are raising the legal issues of access as a basic human right. Article 10 of the European Convention on HR states that access to information, to clarify the issues around this article, the European council has published a document on HR guidelines for ISP.
    The next big challenge is privacy. Issues are often raised about, where does your right for privacy on the net end and the states right to look into your communications start?

    In many countries proxys and filters cut off words and sites (right now the word Egypt is blocked in China). I lived in Dubai for years and any site which had porn, gambling, religious or political themes was blocked. You are not left with much. But everyone bypassed the proxy with VPNs so it was really a big joke. If you want access to information you can always find a way to find that info, what is more interesting is what you actually do with that information. Are you going to sit back and enjoy living in a golden cage?

    You are absolutely right, once again the SM sycophants are calling Egypt and Tunisia the FB and twitter revolutions. Well the US, France and many other countries had revolutions long before any type of modern communication was invented. When the people are sick of a situation they don’t need to read their friend’s FB status to make up their mind.

  • MollyFulton

    Gini, This is such an interesting idea. I just returned from a trip to Liberia, Africa where the infrastructure has been decimated by civil war. Phones, internet, even electricty is far from standard, but it doesn’t stop the movement of people, ideas, politics, or change. I’ve found it to be an interesting challenge to consult with people leading movements, churches, and small businesses who do not have access to the technology and resources we have. It certainly makes you reconsider what we think necessary and what we believe we are entitled to. Human beings are often quite willing to trade freedom for security, What we think are “rights” are too often treated as commodities that we can trade and profit from and internet access is no different…oh I think I’m winding up for a rant, nevermind. 🙂

  • @NancyMyrland Hi Nancy,
    If you don’t mind – I just want to jump in here and say that cell phones in Cairo were indeed cut off – their main 2 carriers are MobiNil and Vodaphone – Mobinil was cut off for a couple days.

    As for the rest of what you said – hear, hear! 🙂

  • NancyMyrland

    Make that etc. not ext.!

  • NancyMyrland

    @Griddy Oh, you and I definitely agree about cell phone being part of the human rights equation! Shame on Egypt. Shame on them.

  • @johnfalchetto Hey John,
    You brought up some excellent points here.
    Just a couple things here:

    When it comes to privacy – many 3rd world countries don’t have that luxury aka amendments. Actually many cell phone lines are tapped. And that’s just one example.

    As for Dubai – you are very right – it’s quite easy to bypass the proxy with VPN. Same goes for countries such as Syria – where certain Social Media sites (Facebook) were not allowed.

    As for this being called a Social Media or Twitter or whatever revolution – that’s just ridiculous to me.

    The bottom line in Egypt is that people are hungry. It’s a country of 80 million and the grand majority are dirt poor. There is no middle class – there hasn’t been in decades. The wealthy are in the hundreds of millions if not billions (many of which are) and the poor on in the streets. I lived in Cairo for almost 11 years and believe me when I tell you that although the country is extremely rich in history and culture (as we well know) – it’s people (the common people who make up the great majority obviously) are fed up.

    They could have turned to the streets in a more peaceful way – that’s for sure. There was maybe no need to break into houses or malls or beating people (or even killing a few in Alexandria) but when 80 million people or so are angry – control is tough to maintain. Let us not forget that the army – also is made up of less privileged folks and not of the upper class.

    Just my 2 cents here. And I agree with all that you said :).

  • @Griddy And for some reason the price of bango doubled in the last 6 months. The same thing happened to the USSR when the price of vodka went through the roof and the wall collapse. Is there a link between drugs and booze prices and revolutions?

    More seriously, I lived in Cairo from 97 to 99 and at the time people were fed up as you said but scared like hell of Am Dawla and the Mukhabarat. Suddenly nobody is scared anymore, you make a good point about the middle class. Over the past few years the middle class has been destroyed and the poor just got poorer. Now they reached the tipping point where they have nothing too lose.
    As for the Army the lower ranks are poor farmer boys but the higher ranks come from wealthy families (who did well under the Mubarak regime). I think in the end the army is the deciding factor. If the generals feel they will loose the huge aids from the US, they will take position against Mubarak.
    I do hope the people of Egypt will be able to feed their children again.

  • ChristineGordon

    I think that denying the importance of Social Media in the revolution is not fair. Sure, Revolution was not born in Facebook, but it is thanks to FB that it’s become that big.

    Christine Gordon

  • ginidietrich

    @MollyFulton I like the rant…and the fact that you’re here! So, if we are to think about this from our perspective…what happens if the government shuts off our Internet and phones? THAT would cause a revolt. But, I had a DM conversation with lauraclick yesterday that made me think about companies that don’t allow their employees Internet (or social media) access. To me, that’s like saying you can’t have phone or email access, but I suppose those of us in this digital world feel entitled.

  • ginidietrich

    @johnfalchetto I love having you participate in the conversation here. Not only do you add a lot of value, you bring a perspective most of us don’t have. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the next few weeks in Egypt, but also in Israel and how the U.S. responds.

  • @ChristineGordon Hi Christine,
    If you don’t mind, I just want to jump in here and say a few things:

    I don’t think that Gini or anyone denies the role that Social Media played in spreading the word. Even simple SMS’s played a big role. If I”m not mistaken, I think she made that quite clear in her 4th and 5th paragraphs. But I also agree with Gini that this revolution would have taken place regardless – it was something that was long overdue.

    You see, Hosni Moubarak helped many of the rich get richer. And I’m sure and know that he did some great things as well for the country. But he has been in power for over 30 years and I think people wanted/needed a change. Not to say that whatever regime comes after (if one does) will be better. You never know I suppose.

    But the poor make up a tremendous percentage of the 80 million population. And when I say poor – I mean illiterate, on the streets, bathing in Nile water. I don’t mean to exaggerate but you do have many of these people in such situations over there. Therefore Social Media for them – may not have played such a big role for they may not have access to it.

    Again – I do agree in that sites such as FB, Twitter and others helped greatly spread the word (especially internationally) but it would be rather far fetched to say that it was because of Facebook that this happened or that it became that big. This was bound to happen – if not today, then tomorrow. And with 80 million people who are for the most part – not well off or barely making ends meet – it could only have been this big.

    And it may not be very accurate to call this revolution due to people who are fed up from having nothing – “the Facebook Revolution” or anything like that. For after the first day or so – they no longer had access to Facebook or the internet for that matter. Even the cell phones of one of the main carriers were disconnected if not simply extremely hard to reach.

    I hope you don’t mind me stepping in here to share my 2 cents. This is just my personal opinion.

    Thanks for taking the time to read this :).

  • @ginidietrich @johnfalchetto Okay, so I know you’re only interested in John’s opinion now LOL. Kidding of course.

    And yes, I agree that John brings a lot of value. And yes again, you can bet that Israel is watching Egypt with a microscope as they have a peace treaty with them – and this could be jeopardized depending on who takes Moubarak’s place (if anyone at all) As for responses, the US and Israel usually go hand in hand.

  • ginidietrich

    @Griddy Oh Lord. It’s just because I hadn’t gotten to your novel yet.

  • I’d have a hard time defending the internet/social media as a human right. When I think of human rights I think of food, shelter, protection for yourself and family (self and or government aided), and fair treatment; social media pales in comparison. I’d say it’s definitely a “civil liberty” that should be allowed, but not so much a human right.

    As far as the revolution, it was going to happen with our with the internet, much less social media. That’s like saying the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan wouldn’t have happened if CNN or Al-Jazeera weren’t there to cover them. As “real” as the internet may seem at times (and many times it is), it’s still virtual and will always be irrelevant in the scheme of real-world occurrences.

  • @johnfalchetto Oh boy I haven’t heard the word Bango in a while lol :).

    You’re right – the Mukhabarat did instill fear in many – both in Egypt and in other Arabic countries.

    I think you said it all here John. Once again, it seems that you and I are on the same wavelength with this one :).

  • @ginidietrich Thanks for the kind words. Egypt is the pillar to all of the US Arab foreign policy so yes it will change everything.

    @Griddy Ichtar! But don’t get used to being on the same wavelength as Gini challenged us to disagree with other bloggers 🙂

    Speaking of bango, Mubarak’s speech writer he must be a big consumer.

  • Yes, the Internet and social media is an undeniable God-given right! (Seriously, that’s an interesting question.)

    I don’t know about Egypt, but the US is in a digital revolution. Mitch Joel calls it a Renaissance – I think that’s a pretty good description. We’ll look back at these crucial decades as a time of rarely paralleled revolution and renaissance. But like any renaissance, we won’t know were in it until it’s over.

    Social media democratizes. It’s a good thing because it levels us all to the same beach. I like that a lot.

  • fitzternet

    I dunno. Is literacy a right? Seems like more of a skill to me, albeit a skill that should be taught to as many people as possible.

    What about owning a computer, a smartphone or electricity? How can social media be a right when it depends on so many things that aren’t also considered rights? Seems that a right is something that isn’t dependent on material possessions.

    An interesting question, nonetheless…

  • lauraclick

    @ginidietrich @MollyFulton This is an interesting post and discussion, Gini. Per our conversation yesterday, I would say that yes, internet and social media access is a right. But, when you frame it this way, Molly, perhaps I’m sorely mistaken. It is an interesting debate for sure.

    I do think businesses are foolish to prevent their employees from getting online or using social media. But, if a government prohibits access, that is a whole different conversation. All of this just makes me think about how lucky and blessed we are…

  • MollyFulton

    @lauraclick @ginidietrich I remember last year we had a major cable/line/ something cut that took down phone and internet completely in the few blocks around our business for a couple of days. I remember thinkin: Terrorist don’t need to kill themselves or anybody else. If they want to take us down, cut our internet!

    The real issue is access and flow of information. Technology makes it super quick and agile, but the technology itself is not actually a necessity. The outrage comes when a government exerts complete control over the flow of information because that smacks of totalitarianism. I don’t think it necesssarily follows that internet access is a basic human right, but denying or restricting access is the purview of control freaks and power mongers who fear truth justice and the American way. 🙂 It’s unbecoming in government and corporations.

    And yes, we are especially blessed.

  • lauraclick

    @MollyFulton @ginidietrich I’ll just give that an Amen! 😉

  • @johnfalchetto @ginidietrich LOL very true John. I’m just waiting for her to say something that’s out there thought haha. But darn her, so far, so good!

    I’m sure his speech writer isn’t the only one ;).

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  • HowieSPM

    shonali burke blogged about this earlier and we had quite a nice discussion with @Griddy promising to take a raft to Cairo and report live for us.

    My view is that Social Media talking heads need validation of Social Media more than everyone else. Erik Sass of Media Post, who covers Social Media one day into the Egypt protests wrote a piece ‘Take that Malcom’. One day in! And my view is with 183 SMS texts per Facebook status update and email and phone and in person WoM 98% of all communication occurs in private so we will never know the real way this all happened.

    But I have been collecting snipits from the #Jan25 stream including who has been participating and where Social to me seems strongest is relaying events around the world, not at the event among the event participants, but everyone else. Time just did a story on this guy with friends in Egypt and what he has been doing is calling them everyday on their cell phones and land lines then tweeting to the world what is happening..

    As for your last question Gini. Communication and Freedom of Speech I feel is an in alienable human right. I don’t think Governments have a right to shut down communication channels. BUT we individually don’t own the networks and we do not have an inalienable right to use them just because they exist. Just like I can’t just take your car and drive it or when you aren’t home sleep in your bed or raid your fridge of Vegetarian treats!

  • HowieSPM

    @JMattHicks you left out we have an inalienable human right to listen to the Glitch Mob and David Starfire, but Britney Spears not so much. I think that would get you in trouble with the Geneva Convention on torture.

  • HowieSPM
  • HowieSPM

    @Griddy @ChristineGordon I read today that 50% of Egyptians earn $2 per day. Including a majority of the under 30’s due to lack of jobs.

    On a bright note. Except for Iran ( I am sure someone will come up with another 1 or 2 places) the US and the old Soviet Union (minus the former soviet republics themselves in Central Asia) propped up many dicatotorships and puppet regimes in the name of stability or the cold war that are now thriving democracies of som sort. Eastern Europe. Indonesia. Phillippines. South and Central America. Turkey. Even Pakistan is a Democracy.

    So I am optimistic on things. But to Griddy’s point on the poverty affecting use of Social Media as well as fostering this uprising is dead on.

  • @HowieSPM @Griddy @ginidietrich I was listening to NPR the other day, and the point was made that what’s happening in the Arab world right now – starting with Tunisia – is remarkable, because typically this kind of thing doesn’t happen. Howie mentioned my post (thanks, Howie!), and I’m fascinated by what’s going on and how it started and has picked up momentum… not really at the point where I could say “stick it Gladwell” with 100% conviction, but I don’t think anyone can deny that social channels have given this revolution a voice and momentum it might not otherwise have had.

    One of the things that strikes me is how differently many of us understand or perceive the word “revolution.” As to whether we are in the middle of a digital revolution – I don’t know if it’s a digital revolution as such, or more of a significantly-overhauled way of communicating. Think back to when the Gutenberg press was invented. It completely changed our lives. That’s what social is doing. Could you call it a “revolution”? I’m not so sure.

    As to whether the use of the Internet and SM are a human right… freedom of communication, speech and expression are human rights, as Howie also said. In the US, we’re used to this because of the Bill of Rights. While I haven’t looked at the constitution of Egypt and other Arab countries, I imagine it’s possible this is not the case in many countries. Even if it’s not called out, though, it’s what we humans do. We communicate with each other – and it behooves a government that sincerely cares about the welfare of its citizens to protect and support that right. In that respect, curbing the Internet, etc., goes against the grain.

  • @Griddy @ChristineGordon @HowieSPM @ginidietrich Griddy, parvez sharma makes very similar points to you. He’s been doing a really incredible job of tweeting & interviewing folks in Egypt, btw.

  • @Griddy @NancyMyrland I thought I heard on the radio yesterday (look at me, how OLD SCHOOL! 😛 – hey, I was driving…) that Internet service has been restored in Egypt… did anyone else hear that?

  • HowieSPM

    @Shonali @Griddy @ginidietrich Kind of funny how a country that glamourized Revolution has had a habit of supporting so many horrible dictators over the years. But if you look objectively except for the revolution, WW1, and WW2 we really have not been a good country. We have done some pretty horrible things domestically and abroad.

  • HowieSPM

    @Griddy @johnfalchetto Whats bango and can I get some here? The name sounds like fun.

  • HowieSPM

    @ginidietrich @lisarobbinyoung I notice Jack Bauer never says his thoughts on Spin Sucks and he has to use Guerrilla Marketing just to get seen in your videos. Are you oppressing Jack with a Middle East style ditcatorship right in our heartland? I am going to free Jack from this oppression because you can’t keep the people down forever! You wait I am having posters made and starting a letter writing campaign. I also have a call into Amnesty International. Maybe even a hunger strike. It worked for Mandela!

  • @HowieSPM shonali burke I’m on my way Howie – but my arms are a bit tired from rowing and having to cross from the entire Mediterranean, to the Red Sea and into the Nile – somehow haha. Pheww..

  • @Shonali @ChristineGordon @HowieSPM @ginidietrich parvez sharma Thanks for pointing him out Shonali. I’ll make sure to check out his tweets and stuff :). Must be very interesting.

    So what do you guys all think? Is Moubarak going to step down or not? Any implications to what it could mean for the country and region if he does? Or doesn’t?

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  • ChristineGordon

    @Griddy @Shonali @HowieSPM @ginidietrich parvez sharma Egypt is unpredictable. However, I think protests will calmd down (remember it’s been 9 days of protesting against the gov’t!). Anyway, international leaders are not supporting Mubarak anymore and that’s also a point to consider: they want transition now. Let’s see what happens though!


  • @HowieSPM @Griddy @ginidietrich Yes, that’s true. But I’m pretty sure every country has done pretty horrible things. Foreign affairs isn’t a “pretty” job, and even “diplomacy” is pretty rough.

  • HowieSPM

    @Shonali @Griddy @ginidietrich My rant Shonali wasn’t exonerating other Governments. In fact most are worse. But we have the holier than though projection which is a bit of BS. Similar to the Pope I guess LOL

  • ginidietrich

    @fitzternet So maybe the correct question is…is access to the Internet a human right?

  • ginidietrich

    @Artists_Discuss I LOVE that social media levels us all to the same beach. Totally agree!

  • @HowieSPM @Griddy @ginidietrich Uh oh, did I tweak the Alien’s antenna? :p We do have a holier-than-thou attitude. IMHO it’s part of being a relatively young country… remember how arrogant we all were as teens?

    As to the Pope: not going there.

  • @HowieSPM @johnfalchetto Hey John – you want to tell Howie what bango is – or should I? LOL

  • @Griddy @HowieSPM It’s a plant that grows in Egypt. You can probably find it in the US, although most of it is imported from BC or Mexico.

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  • davevanz

    A good friend of mine sat down with me as we discussed the unrest in Egypt and how this plays a part not only the future of dictatorships but also war negotiations

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