Is Social Networking Revolutionising the World?

By Branko Miletic

  • Why the ME is a hotbed of revolutionary activity
  • Is social networking the cause?
  • What role does social networking have in the ME?

Some people who should know better. Such as Russia’s deputy prime minister, Igor Sechin, who has recently insinuated that social networks like Twitter, Facebook and even Google are behind the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt along with the uprisings in Libya, Yemen, Algeria and Bahrain. But is this true or are they being just a little liberal with the truth?

Twitter and other social media programs like Facebook, MySpace and Digg are information-distribution networks, updated in real-time and re-published possibly many thousands of times and transmitted all around the world in the blink of an eye. In other words Twitter for example is a bit like email – but at only 140 words a pop.

But to claim Twitter causes uprisings is like saying the French Revolution happened because of the printing press, or that the Berlin Wall only fell because of the advent of the fax machine.

Without going into every minute detail of Middle East geo-politics, the fact is that many countries in that part of the world have massive youth populations. Some countries in the Middle East have 60 per cent of their populace under the age of 40- these young people want a life and not rhetoric. They want jobs and not paranoia. The young of that part of the world want what every young person in the world wants- hope, jobs, security, life, fun, freedom, love etc.

As US journalist and social media commentator Dave Pell recently penned in The Huffington Post, “Twitter is not the root cause of these uprisings. Twitter was not repressed. Twitter did not get inspired by events in other countries. And when risks are taken, Twitter does not get beaten over the head with batons or blasted in the face with toxic gases”.

And let’s not get too warm and cuddly about internet usage in the Middle East- in Egypt for example only 1 in 6 people are online- hardly the catalyst for an overthrow of the government. In places like Yemen and Libya that figure is even lower- and what about Al-Jazeera? The Qatari-based satellite TV service may well have something to say about opening the eyes of Arab youth.

Twitter is not a force for change- it is a tool used by those that want to force change- the same as email, the telephone, the TV, the graffiti on the wall and of course, the spoken and printed word has been for many centuries.

Perhaps the last words should go to The Financial Times newspaper. “The commentary about the role of social media in Egypt has become so breathless that it is easy to forget that the French managed to storm the Bastille without the help of Twitter – and the Bolsheviks took the Winter Palace without pausing to post photos of each other on Facebook”.

While it can be said that social networking has been the conduit of spreading the message, you would be hard-pressed to make an argument that it was the cause.