Social networking sites can change worlds
Recent news has reported the volunteer efforts of citizens toward cleaning up Tahrir Square in the aftermath of 18 days of tumultuous protests. Among the remains of the assembly where impromptu shelters, smoldered debris and blood stains as witness to the early clashes with police, the trash-of-everyday-life left behind by hundreds of thousands and a forever-changed Egypt.
Among the uncertainty that lies ahead for the Egyptian people and the rest of the world, there is a clear image of the power of the organized masses to demand and achieve change. Through the sheer power and legitimacy of a completely organic democratic force, the people of Egypt overthrew a tyrant of 30 years.
When analyzing and reflecting upon the weeks and months before the "Revolution of January 25," it is difficult to find any single political party or activist group that can be accredited with organizing or early promotion of the protests. Instead, you find young organizers like Wael Ghonim, activists like Ahmed Salah and martyrs like Khalid Saeed. You do not find newspaper articles, official press releases or TV news segments. Instead you find Facebook pages, Tweets and YouTube videos. When the Egyptian government shut down the Internet and cell phone service, the movement continued to spread by word of mouth, hastily printed flyers and makeshift signs.
In early June 2010, more than seven months before the protests, a 28-year-old Saeed was arrested and beaten to death by police in Alexandria. The news of his murder spread throughout the Internet along with a postmortem photograph of his mangled face. The story behind his death, which led to his eventual martyrdom in the preceding social struggle, was that Saeed had been beaten to death in order to cover up evidence of the involvement of police in illegal drug trafficking.
In response to Saeed's passing and rumor of murder at the hands of corrupted police, a Facebook group was launch called "We are all Khalid Saeed." Google executive Ghonim, 30, the original author of the site used it to begin to organize and express the frustrations he and others had toward former President Hosni Mubarak's reign.
As weeks and months passed, unrest felt by the masses due to corruption, low wages and sharply rising living costs began to spread and fuel itself like a wildfire on sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The tipping point was the Jan. 25 demonstration-turned-revolution as protesters clashed with police. Organizers chose the day for its significance as the Egyptian National Police Day. Through mainly digital — but also old-fashion grassroots efforts by young activists such as Salah, who disappeared shortly after Jan. 25 — thousands filled the streets demanding Mubarak's resignation.
After his release from 11 days of secret government detention and the resignation of Mubarak, Ghonim commented to reporters, "I'm not a hero. The real heroes are the youth who are behind this revolution."
Even now, as the protests have ended, Tahrir Square has been cleaned and the Internet restored, you still find a lot of chatter on Facebook. Using Google Chrome Translator to view "We are all Khalid Saeed," you can find in the discussion section many topics including this one: "The demands of the people of Egypt after the revolution of Jan. 25 for a new constitution." It is clear that the people of Egypt are steadfast in their demands for ushering in a non-corrupt and free new government.
This has not been the first example of profound change resulting from digital grassroots efforts. The election of the 44th President of the United States in 2008 has been attributed in part to the massive support from young voters. Many of these voters got "plugged-in" to the campaign through Facebook and other Internet outlets. Right now, there are already Facebook pages to re-elect or not to re-elect President Barack Obama in 2012, along with dozens of similar sites for an election that is less than two years away.
It is with the vivid example of Egypt and the subtle reminder of Obama's successful election that one can truly say that young people can change the world with nothing more than a keyboard, Facebook and a worthy cause. When looking at Egypt, it is a population of around 80 million people and a median age of only 24 years. When looking at other countries in the region, Iran has a median age of just over 26 years, Iraq with a median age of 20.6 years, in Afghanistan only 18 years and the Gaza Strip around 17.5 years of age. These are countries with their futures literally in the hands of college-aged students. This fact, coupled with the ever-growing speed and access to the Internet and sites like Facebook and Twitter, can only lead one to wonder about the where and when the next "Revolution of January 25" will be. Perhaps it will be a revolution with a different cause and a different result. But one can be assured that the Internet and sites like Facebook and its young users will play a prominent role.
Christopher Pflaum is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in genetics with a minor in political science. He is the president of the Rutgers University Democrats. His column, "Carpe Diem," runs on alternate Thursdays.