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The Role of
Facebook in the Egyptian January Revolution

 

Social
media has rapidly become one of life’s essential means to survive. we reached a
point where it has become quiet peculiar to find someone who does not engage in
any of the daily used social media websites or Applications. Social media is
defined as “online tools and utilities that allow communication of information
online and participation and collaboration” (Strock, 2011). There is no doubt
that social media has an influence on  our lives, decision making and our very own
way of thinking; and a crystal clear example where a social media website is said
to have influenced a massive event or movement, is Facebook in the Egyptian
revolution.

 

The
Egyptian revolution took place on the 25th of January which also coincides with
the National Police Day, in 2011. On that day, and for another consecutive
couple of weeks, the Egyptian streets and media echoed with the call for the
regime to step down. As for online media, specifically Facebook, the number of
social groups that were created among Egyptians was increasing rapidly, the
number of participation in these groups and members that coordinated many
events were in a constant increase. After this life altering event, of Mubarak
stepping down on the 3rd of February, Egyptians celebrated in the same streets
that held their anger and thirst for change. Meanwhile, Facebook was also
celebrating, many Egyptians have joined the celebration on Facebook- very much
like the streets- either by writing posts or by changing their profile picture
either to the Egyptian flag, or to a picture of Tahrir square filled with
protestors.

 

So, it
became quite clear the role that Facebook had in the Egyptian revolution, but
whether this role was positive and helped in increasing the number of people
protesting or was actually negative meaning that it only helped in spreading
rumors and inciting violence among the people, is something to be discovered at
the end of this research paper.

 

Literature
Review

The
Egyptian revolution, has raised many questions regarding the role of social
media in our lives as a tool for changing the public opinions about several
things including regimes. If we take Facebook as an example, we will find out
that it had a positive impact on the Egyptian revolution. There is no doubt about
the fact that the internet is now the easiest way to connect people together,
and according to Aouragh & Alexander (2011) there are more than 30 million internet
users in Egypt, whether from their mobile phones or homes. This means that there
are more Egyptian users on Facebook than there are subscribers to newspapers, hence
Facebook proved more effective than some newspapers in Egypt at the time.

When
Facebook launched their Arabic version, the number of Facebook users in Egypt
tripled, reaching 6,586,260 active Facebook users in April 2011. Which is considered
the highest number of users among any Arab state (Strock, 2011). As a result,
there is no doubt that Facebook connected millions of people from areas all
over the country. Facebook at that time was not only a method of keeping in
touch with friends and loved ones, it was actually a place where bonds where
created and movements were formed and for them to have a platform to publicize
their cause in order to gain public support and followers (Eltantawy &
Wiest, 2011).

 

After
Facebook became a platform that connected people together, the next step was to
give those people power, and this power came from Facebook, as according to
Wael Ghoniem the Egyptian participant and leader in the 25th of January
revolution, he stated that “if you want to liberate a society, just give them
the internet” (Strock, 2011). Therefore, social media, specifically Facebook, became
a weapon given to the weak in order to unite them and amplifying their causes
and calls for change making them more powerful and effective. In addition,
Facebook was also a prime place for posting any urgent information or breaking
news that were often unannounced in national television due to the situation in
Egypt then. For example, the government official pages on Facebook, announced
the timings of the curfews that were made in the country (Aouragh &
Alexander, 2011). This shows the importance and the effect Facebook actually
had on the revolution, as it was not only a platform that gathered people, it
was a way of communication between all the sides taking part  in the event.

 

Facebook
also had a positive role in delivering a positive image of the country and the
revolution to the whole world. This was done using tools the government
underestimated at the time (social media), specifically Facebook, which was
globally used. Therefore, people’s posts and pictures of Egyptians uniting and
actually protecting each other and caring for each other was a message sent to
the world that Egypt will always remain a unified nation. According to Sheedy
(2011), an activist, actually stated that “we used Facebook to schedule the
protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world”. Facebook was
also the host for the main and largest two pages that supported the revolution
and motivated people to participate. These were “We are all Khalid Saied” whose
admin was Wael Ghoneim, and “6 April” by the activist Asmaa Mahfouz which
encouraged woman to join the nation in protests. These two pages combined had
more than 2 million participants at that time (Sheedy, 2011) (Soloman, 2012).

 

Furthermore,
Facebook also allowed the person who posted something or created an event, to
see the number of people who “liked”, commented or even shared their posts, so
this indicated that people agree with them. Hence, this gave the writer the
feeling of support and that they are not alone in this, therefore, taking a
real life action became easier (Bailly, 2012) (Soloman, 2012). Another positive
impact Facebook had brought, was spreading the hope among the nation. Hope is
an essential element in any kind of revolt in order to motivate people to keep
on going (Bhuiyan, 2011). Moreover, Facebook served as an alternative for traditional
media  to many people, as at that time
people did not usually trust the news that was broadcasted by the governmental national
channels (Lopes, 2014), so the existence of Facebook at that time offering
real-time coverage of the latest news was essential and contributed to the
revolution.

To sum it up, the fact that the government blocked the internet in Egypt for a couple
of days was nothing but a sign that shows how such tools posed a threat to the
government. This indicates that Facebook was an integral driving force and one
of the reasons behind the humongous widespread participation in the revolution.
(Bhuiyan, 2011) (Maurushat & Chawki & Al-Alosi & Shazly, 2014).

One the other hand, there are many people who have opinions
arguing that Facebook did more harm in the revolution than the good it served.
This was because since Facebook could be used by anyone who made an account, it
was also used by the Egyptian government personnel during the revolution. As
according to Strock (2011), Facebook was used by the government and their
supporters as a way of communication re-assure them that everything is fine and
nothing will change. And by this, some pro-regime pages used social media
specifically Facebook, to fabricate information like sharing old pictures of
empty Tahrir Square and Qasr-El Nile bridge, while in fact they were full of
thousands of angry protestors.

 

Indeed the
existence of Facebook allowed numerous people to communicate and give out their
political and economic opinions about the situation in the country at the time,
however, not many Egyptians are actually politically aware or had a political
background, therefore this posed a problem as rumors started spreading which
further complicated the situation. As according to El-Gendi (2013), the
Egyptian revolution ended with Facebook just as it started with it, this is due
to the fact that many of the social and political activists that posted about
the revolution and their opinions and critical theories about the current
situation in the country actually had no experience in the political arena and
with no actual ties to politics. Therefore, the trend altered from being a form
of participation to actually writing your personal political opinion. As most
of the members of “Kolena Khalid Saied” group on Facebook have actually never
witnessed protests before and lacked any form of political experience when it
came to dealing with such people and the situation itself.

Given that during that time the situations in Egypt was a critical one that
could not withstand any kind of false information or rumors that were mostly
spread through Facebook and other social media websites as mentioned above, the
government took the decision to suspend all internet services from the country
on the 27th of January 2011 and till the 3rd of February
2011. This created even more turbulence in the country, as apart from the economic
blow and the fact that the country lost millions of dollars during that period,
there were some people who had relatives living abroad, and used the internet
to keep in touch with them and to assure them of their safety in such
conditions. Therefore, cutting the internet services created even more tension
among people in the country and abroad (Sheedy, 2011).

 

Another
negative impact that Facebook is claimed to have had on the revolution, is the
fact that not only did Facebook assisted the spreading rumors exaggerating what
was happening in the streets back then, it also gave way to heightening the
peoples’  expectations, causing mass disappointment
afterwards.  For example, according to
Bailly (2012), around the 1st of February, there were rumors spreading
on Facebook and other social media stating that Mubarak has stepped down as
president. Consequently, People started cheering and celebrating both on social
media and in real life, but the celebrations did not last, as soon after people
realized that it was only a rumor and felt disappointed and demotivated. This
could have in fact made people lose some hope and hence give up on the revolution
even after coming that far.

 

Against
all claims that Facebook encouraged people to take part in the revolution by
going to Tahrir square, or other places to protest, many people do believe that
it- in fact- limited Egyptians from taking real life action. As according to
Khamis, Gold & Vaughn (2013), due to the existence of Facebook, many people
were satisfied with merely hitting the “Like” button on a post or status
concerning the revolution, and even choosing to press and confirm “going” to demonstrations
or strike which they never went to. Therefore, such posts or events that were
created on Facebook, were most of the time misleading as to what was the exact
number of real life participants.

 

In accordance
with the research done, the arrival and integration of social media in our
lives was not the cause of the revolution of 2011, as when numerous Egyptian
activists were asked after the revolution, they responded that they do not
believe the claims that argue that social media was the reason behind the 2011
uprising (Bailly,2012). It was only an aiding factor in accelerating the
movement but not creating it. After analyzing the perceived positive and
negative impacts that Facebook had on the Egyptian revolution, we can conclude
that, the positive impact of Facebook outweighed the negative, as not only did
Facebook offer the people the freedom of expressing their opinions without
censorship or fear, it connected them to each other, united them, and finally gave
the world a glimpse on how Egyptians are a strong, united people, who can go
through any obstacle together no matter how difficult the situation gets.

 

Methodology

On the 10th
of may 2017, a sample of six Egyptian teenagers were interviewed, in order to
know their opinion about the topic of this research paper; which was the role
of Facebook in the 25th of Jan. Revolution. Out of the 6 teenagers,
there were 2 females and four males, they were all around the same age; 19-21
years old, as this age was present and aware during the revolution and at the
same time uses social media applications on a daily basis. Before the
interviews were conducted, it was assured that the interviewees all had a
Facebook account and in somehow took a part in the Egyptian revolution. This is
because they were asked to give in their opinion about the role of Facebook in
the revolution and whether they believe it was a positive or a negative one.

 

The
interviewees were all given fake names in order to keep them anonyms. (Omar,
Adham, Menna, Eslam, Rawan and Ahmed). The interviews were all carried on the
same day, and the interviewees were notified that they are being audio recorded
before the start of the interview. The interview was conducted in a public yet
a quiet place in order to make the interviewees as comfortable as possible, and
for them to be honest and open about their opinions. Each interview continued
for more than 15 minutes.

 

Results

At the
beginning of the interview the interviewees introduced themselves by saying their
age and what they study.

During the
interview, an average of 8 questions were asked, and the interviewees were all
given equal space and time to answer them. Those 8 questions can be categorized
into the following; personal experience and personal point of views. For the
personal experience it included the questions about how often do they use
social media and if they participated in the revolution or not. And for the
Personal point of views category, the questions of what do they think of the
power of social media and what it is capable of doing, and what do they think
provoked the revolution, and if Facebook actually encouraged people to
participate in the revolution and whether the impact of Facebook was negative
or positive on the revolution can be included in it. Another question that was
asked to the interviewees that falls under the same category, is whether they
believe if another revolution occurred in Egypt, will it be also provoked by
social media or not. The last question was their opinion on how we can use the
social media in favor of our society.

For the
first category which was personal
experience the interviewees answered the question of how long do they use
social media, saying that they mostly use social media for about 70% of their days,
moreover they also stated that they mainly use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram,
Snapchat and mainly WhatsApp. they also added that they mainly use social media
for communication and some of them including Adham, Eslam and Ahmed, use it for
writing their opinions about different topics. While others like Omar, Rawan
and Menna, stated that they do not like to post their opinions online,

Most of
the interviewees actually joined the streets during the revolution, either in
the beginning or in the last couple of days, most of the interviewees stated
that they used Facebook to share their experience with others in joining the
revolution.

                                  

The other
category which was personal point of
views, the interviewees answered that they believe that social media is the
most important thing to people nowadays that’s why its very influential, they also
agreed that social media has the ability to create or stop problems, it can
join people together or even separate them. Especially that the social media is
free and easily accessible for everyone no matter what their social class is.
 They mostly all agreed on the fact that
also social media was the tool to actually create the revolution, however it
happened mainly because of many problems in Egypt such as Khalid Saied’s case
or church bombings. Others such as Adham and Ahmed stated that as the
technology developed, people were able to share videos where corruption took
place as in the past, Bluetooth was the only method to share such videos, but
now with the help of social media, sharing and posting videos became much
easier.

When they were asked about positive or negative impact of Facebook, they mainly
stated that it actually had both (negative and positive) positive is that it encouraged
people to join and negative is the part about the spreading of rumors, that
eventually caused chaos, however most of them including Omar, Menna, Rawan and
Eslam, stated that the positive impacts outweighed the negative ones.

Some of
the participants claimed that they believe that the next revolution will not be
provoked by the social media, as people are now more aware of the problems and
do not need social media to create a revolution, while others said that social
media will continue to develop and increase its popularity among people, hence
the next revolution is more likely to be caused or provoked by it. When the interviewees
were asked how can we use social media to benefit the society, they mostly
answered that we can use it to create campaigns about positive things such as charity
organizations or teaching people some morals, or even creating awareness to
make people double check of what they see on social media, and not to believe
everything they see or read on them.

 

Discussion

Analyzing
the interviewees answers, we can conclude the reason why all of the six of them
stated that they use social media for most of their day’s hours, it is because
social media is now considered a vital tool in which people can communicate
with each other and with the world as well. Moreover, and as these interviewees
fall within the age of 19-21, they attended the revolution and at that time
they had Facebook accounts and actually witnessed the role of Facebook in the
revolution, this is why most of them agreed on the fact that Facebook played a
very important role in the revolution. However, when it came to their personal
point of views, not all of the six interviewees agreed on the future of social
media’s effect on any kind of upcoming revolutions or revolts in the country,
as some of them believed that social media or technology in general will keep
on developing while others stated that people are now aware of their problems
after the revolution and no longer need social media in order to help them
taking such step once again.

 

Analyzing the
answers of the interviewees, we can find out that most of them agreed that
Facebook had both positive and negative impacts on the revolution, however most
of them stated that the positive impacts were more than the negative ones. And
comparing these concluding statements with the claim of the research paper, that
stated that Facebook had only a positive impact on the revolution as it was the
main reason why many people actually participated in the revolution.

 

 

Moreover,
if we compared these answers to the previous studies that was done on this
topic, (literature review), we will find out that the conclusion of the
literature review was that Facebook actually had more positive impacts than
negative ones on the revolution. This basically agrees with the concluding
statements from the interviewees however, it contradicts with the claim as the
claim of the research paper stated that Facebook had only positive impacts and
not negative ones at all. 

 

Conclusion

Concluding
this research paper, the paper’s topic was the role of Facebook in the Egyptian
revolution, and how Facebook was on of the reasons behind the massive
participation in that life changing event. And how technology or social media
in general is recently penetrating every aspect of our lives including the
political one as well. Moreover, the claim of the paper was that Facebook had
only a positive impact on the revolution, while at the end and from the
analysis we concluded that it had both kinds of effects (Positive and negative)
even though the positive ones were more. Technology will always keep on
developing and flourishing, however, to what extent is technology ready to
penetrate into our lives?