Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The True Power of Social Media on Full Display in Egypt

By Cole Buergi, Senior Account Executive, Leonard & Finco Public Relations, Inc.

If there is anyone still uncertain about social media’s power to drive public opinion, all you need to do is turn on your television set and watch the top story of any newscast. Yes, I’m referring to the events in Egypt and the mass government protest by its citizens.

For the past several weeks, thousands of protestors have lined the streets of Cairo demanding the immediate removal of its current president and a complete overhaul of Egypt’s government. The country’s unrest began with the creation of a Facebook page showing photos of Khaled Said’s body in the morgue. Said was a young Egyptian businessman that was beaten to death by police officers because he allegedly possessed evidence of police corruption. This was in stark contrast to YouTube videos, taken before the beating, of a vibrant Said. The brutal killing enraged many Egyptians.

The result was tens of thousands of people quickly using that Facebook page to share information and their opinions about the case. The page is now the largest site for dissidents with more than 473,000 users according to the New York Times' February 5th story, “Movement Began with Outrage and a Facebook Page That Gave It an Outlet.”

Although the events leading up to the creation of the Facebook page are gruesome, what’s fascinating is that the upheaval is not being led by one single person with a large group of dedicated followers overseeing efforts to coordinate protestors and convey messaging. Instead, the dissemination of information is decentralized with social media providing a forum for anyone who wants to speak up. Essentially, no single person has been designated the leader.

Couple that with the speed in which information is shared and you have both the Egyptian government as well as our own American government struggling to stay informed and also struggling to determine the best course of action to respond as events on the ground in Cairo change hourly. At most times, the protestors were staying not just one, but two to three steps ahead of the governments.

We are witnessing history in the making as social media is front and center as a tool to coordinate and inform the masses. Yes, we’ve seen social media create hype about an event, or create a fever buzz about some new product or service, but the happenings in Egypt really demonstrate the true capabilities of social media and its profound impact on the world today and in the future. I can guarantee the way in which social media is being used by Egypt’s protestors will become a case study in universities around the world.

Do you agree? Do you think there is an element of danger with social media being the driving force of change when there is no leader? Share your thoughts.

1 comment:

Beth said...

It's pretty amazing how much controversy started because of the Facebook Page. I'm guessing Facebook creators could have never guessed at how powerful the site has become!