With apologies to Gil Scott-Heron, the revolution will not be televised—but it just might be tweeted. How instrumental the use of social media was in fomenting recent anti-government movements in Iran, Tunisia, and Egypt may be up for debate, but there is no doubt that networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are now pivotal in disseminating information worldwide. And by going viral, any posting can affect millions of people.
The detainment and subsequent release by the Egyptian government of Google executive Wael Ghonim, who has been credited for mobilizing anti-government forces in Cairo through his use of social-networking media, illustrates the growing power of those platforms in both social interaction and distribution of information.
Ghonim, Google’s head of marketing for the Middle East and North Africa, had mysteriously disappeared in Cairo at the end of January, shortly after posting on his Facebook page that people had scoffed when he said the “Internet will change the political scene in Egypt.” Before his disappearance he tapped out a tweet heard ’round the world: “Pray for #Egypt. Very worried as it seems that government is planning a war crime tomorrow against people. We are all ready to die #Jan25.” Earlier, he had set up the campaign website for opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a Nobel Peace Prize winner.
After announcing his release on Twitter, Ghonim acknowledged in a TV interview that he had been the administrator of a popular Facebook page that may have inspired the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square against President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. After hearing how many people had died during his 12 days of captivity, Ghonim broke down in tears. His emotional interview drew thousands more people to protest the next day. Addressing the crowd at Tahrir Square on February 8, Ghonim denied being a hero: “I was just typing on my keyboard. You are the heroes.”
Hero or not, Ghonim and his story demonstrate how integral social-media networking has become to people’s lives worldwide.