#Egypt Is Anyone Out There? …Hello?

By Ben Spielberg

About four months ago, Malcolm Gladwell, author of best sellers like The Tipping Point and Outliers wrote an article for the New Yorker titled “Small Change.” In it, he stated that social media applications like Facebook and Twitter do not possess the capacity to contribute to any “real” social change. Malcolm Gladwell, while a smart man, is wrong.

This past week in Cairo there have been protests involving thousands of people. They want change, so they marched around their capital city in Egypt and even attempted to create a national holiday out of it—January 25 as “Protest Day.” Things quickly became out of control—rampant police brutality, tear gas, and even… restricted access to Twitter? It seems that with all of this going on, the Egyptian government has many more pressing issues to worry about rather than Twitter, but maybe not. On Wednesday morning Twitter was blocked from anybody in Egypt in order to prevent massive leaks of pictures and video feeds from protesters. Taking it a step further, Facebook was the next to go.

Unfortunately for the government, computer savvy users are very crafty, and a number of ways were introduced to get around the block. Using simple websites like HootSuite, protesters were able to continue their tweeting and Facebooking. Not only that, but users also figured out ways to use VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) and proxy websites to log onto their preferred social network. As more people became aware of these ways around the system, the blockage of the social networks in Egypt proved futile.

Until last Thursday. Egypt actually turned off the Internet and SMS text messaging. A large majority of this protest happened because of Facebook and Twitter, with groups such as “We Are All Khaled Said” (a man killed by Egyptian police) gaining more than 90,000 members. There was a large “Internet black hole” standing between a world of information and all of Egypt. In this era, social media is a necessary ingredient for awareness to many people. Only time will tell what happens, but it is up to us to ponder what this means. Has social networking really come this far as an integral tool in our daily lives? And once it’s this deeply ingrained in our society, what will we do if it is taken away from us?

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