In a TED Talk given by Wael Ghonim, Ghonim delivers a first hand account on his experience using Facebook for activism. By explaining the challenges he faced with social media activism, we understand why it’s important to change the way we communicate, organize, and take information from social networking sites.
In June 2010, Ghonim came across a picture on the internet of a young Egyptian male who was brutally tortured and killed by police; He was so affected by this photograph that he went home and anonymously created a Facebook page called “We are all Kahled” 3 days after the page was created, “We are all Kahled” had over 100,000 followers- fellow Egyptians who also felt that there needed to be change.
On January 14, 2011 Tunisian President Ben Ali, was forced to flee out of his country after weeks of protests were made against his regime. On that same day, Gael saw hope for Egypt so he posed this question to his 300,000 followers:
“Today is the 14th of January. The 25th of January is Police Day. It’s a national holiday. If 100,000 of us take to the streets of Cairo, no one is going to stop us. I wonder if we could do it.”
He then created a Facebook event titled “A Revolution against Corruption, Injustice and Dictatorship” to which over 100,000 users confirmed their attendance.
Ghonim stated that social media was crucial for this campaign, as it helped a decentralized movement and made people realize that they were not alone. not only did it bring people together, a jaw-dropping 100,000 confirmed attendees made it impossible for the regime to try and stop them from organizing, so on January 25th thousands of Egyptians took to the streets advocating for change.
Shortly before the Egyptian regime cut access to the internet, Ghonim was walking in Cairo when he was blindfolded and kidnapped by state security. His last tweet before being bashed in the head was “Pray for Egypt. The government must be planning a massacre tomorrow.” He was held captive for 11 days before he was set free, thanks to his colleagues at Google who launched a search campaign along with the protesters demanding his release.
The ramifications of taking to social media to incite change, led a man to be kidnapped by state security- and after the euphoria of post-revolution events had subsided, the struggle led to polarization among the people. Social media made it easy for misinformation and rumors to spread throughout the internet; the environment had completely changed, and the online world became a toxic battleground that spat hate speech and lies. Throughout all of this, Wael started to see how social media shapes and magnifies human behaviors. Because of technology, picking a fight with someone, trolling people, and acting on other human impulses is just a click away.
He then lists what he believes to be five critical challenges facing social media today:
- Dealing with rumors on the internet; people do not fact-check as often as they should
- people create their own echo chambers, communicating only with those who agree with them.
- Online discussions can quickly turn into angry mobs and oftentimes, people forget that behind the screen exists a human being- not just a gray face.
- Changing one’s opinion becomes difficult due in part to the speed of social media.
- Social media experiences reflect that people talk at each other instead of with each other.
Five years ago, I said, “If you want to liberate society, all you need is the Internet.” Today, I believe if we want to liberate society, we first need to liberate the Internet.