The Role ofFacebook in the Egyptian January Revolution Socialmedia has rapidly become one of life’s essential means to survive. we reached apoint where it has become quiet peculiar to find someone who does not engage inany of the daily used social media websites or Applications. Social media isdefined as “online tools and utilities that allow communication of informationonline and participation and collaboration” (Strock, 2011). There is no doubtthat social media has an influence on our lives, decision making and our very ownway of thinking; and a crystal clear example where a social media website is saidto have influenced a massive event or movement, is Facebook in the Egyptianrevolution. TheEgyptian revolution took place on the 25th of January which also coincides withthe National Police Day, in 2011. On that day, and for another consecutivecouple of weeks, the Egyptian streets and media echoed with the call for theregime to step down. As for online media, specifically Facebook, the number ofsocial groups that were created among Egyptians was increasing rapidly, thenumber of participation in these groups and members that coordinated manyevents were in a constant increase. After this life altering event, of Mubarakstepping down on the 3rd of February, Egyptians celebrated in the same streetsthat held their anger and thirst for change.
Meanwhile, Facebook was alsocelebrating, many Egyptians have joined the celebration on Facebook- very muchlike the streets- either by writing posts or by changing their profile pictureeither to the Egyptian flag, or to a picture of Tahrir square filled withprotestors. So, itbecame quite clear the role that Facebook had in the Egyptian revolution, butwhether this role was positive and helped in increasing the number of peopleprotesting or was actually negative meaning that it only helped in spreadingrumors and inciting violence among the people, is something to be discovered atthe end of this research paper. LiteratureReviewTheEgyptian revolution, has raised many questions regarding the role of socialmedia in our lives as a tool for changing the public opinions about severalthings including regimes. If we take Facebook as an example, we will find outthat it had a positive impact on the Egyptian revolution. There is no doubt aboutthe 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 internetusers in Egypt, whether from their mobile phones or homes. This means that thereare more Egyptian users on Facebook than there are subscribers to newspapers, henceFacebook proved more effective than some newspapers in Egypt at the time. WhenFacebook launched their Arabic version, the number of Facebook users in Egypttripled, reaching 6,586,260 active Facebook users in April 2011. Which is consideredthe 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 allover the country. Facebook at that time was not only a method of keeping intouch with friends and loved ones, it was actually a place where bonds wherecreated and movements were formed and for them to have a platform to publicizetheir cause in order to gain public support and followers (Eltantawy , 2011). AfterFacebook became a platform that connected people together, the next step was togive those people power, and this power came from Facebook, as according toWael Ghoniem the Egyptian participant and leader in the 25th of Januaryrevolution, he stated that “if you want to liberate a society, just give themthe internet” (Strock, 2011). Therefore, social media, specifically Facebook, becamea weapon given to the weak in order to unite them and amplifying their causesand calls for change making them more powerful and effective. In addition,Facebook was also a prime place for posting any urgent information or breakingnews that were often unannounced in national television due to the situation inEgypt then.
For example, the government official pages on Facebook, announcedthe timings of the curfews that were made in the country (Aouragh , 2011). This shows the importance and the effect Facebook actuallyhad on the revolution, as it was not only a platform that gathered people, itwas a way of communication between all the sides taking part in the event. Facebookalso had a positive role in delivering a positive image of the country and therevolution to the whole world. This was done using tools the governmentunderestimated at the time (social media), specifically Facebook, which wasglobally used. Therefore, people’s posts and pictures of Egyptians uniting andactually protecting each other and caring for each other was a message sent tothe world that Egypt will always remain a unified nation. According to Sheedy(2011), an activist, actually stated that “we used Facebook to schedule theprotests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world”. Facebook wasalso the host for the main and largest two pages that supported the revolutionand motivated people to participate.
These were “We are all Khalid Saied” whoseadmin was Wael Ghoneim, and “6 April” by the activist Asmaa Mahfouz whichencouraged woman to join the nation in protests. These two pages combined hadmore than 2 million participants at that time (Sheedy, 2011) (Soloman, 2012). Furthermore,Facebook also allowed the person who posted something or created an event, tosee the number of people who “liked”, commented or even shared their posts, sothis indicated that people agree with them. Hence, this gave the writer thefeeling of support and that they are not alone in this, therefore, taking areal life action became easier (Bailly, 2012) (Soloman, 2012). Another positiveimpact Facebook had brought, was spreading the hope among the nation.
Hope isan essential element in any kind of revolt in order to motivate people to keepon going (Bhuiyan, 2011). Moreover, Facebook served as an alternative for traditionalmedia to many people, as at that timepeople did not usually trust the news that was broadcasted by the governmental nationalchannels (Lopes, 2014), so the existence of Facebook at that time offeringreal-time coverage of the latest news was essential and contributed to therevolution. To sum it up, the fact that the government blocked the internet in Egypt for a coupleof days was nothing but a sign that shows how such tools posed a threat to thegovernment. This indicates that Facebook was an integral driving force and oneof 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 opinionsarguing 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, itwas also used by the Egyptian government personnel during the revolution.
Asaccording to Strock (2011), Facebook was used by the government and theirsupporters as a way of communication re-assure them that everything is fine andnothing will change. And by this, some pro-regime pages used social mediaspecifically Facebook, to fabricate information like sharing old pictures ofempty Tahrir Square and Qasr-El Nile bridge, while in fact they were full ofthousands of angry protestors. Indeed theexistence of Facebook allowed numerous people to communicate and give out theirpolitical and economic opinions about the situation in the country at the time,however, not many Egyptians are actually politically aware or had a politicalbackground, therefore this posed a problem as rumors started spreading whichfurther complicated the situation.
As according to El-Gendi (2013), theEgyptian revolution ended with Facebook just as it started with it, this is dueto the fact that many of the social and political activists that posted aboutthe revolution and their opinions and critical theories about the currentsituation in the country actually had no experience in the political arena andwith no actual ties to politics. Therefore, the trend altered from being a formof participation to actually writing your personal political opinion. As mostof the members of “Kolena Khalid Saied” group on Facebook have actually neverwitnessed protests before and lacked any form of political experience when itcame to dealing with such people and the situation itself. Given that during that time the situations in Egypt was a critical one thatcould not withstand any kind of false information or rumors that were mostlyspread through Facebook and other social media websites as mentioned above, thegovernment took the decision to suspend all internet services from the countryon the 27th of January 2011 and till the 3rd of February2011.
This created even more turbulence in the country, as apart from the economicblow 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 internetto keep in touch with them and to assure them of their safety in suchconditions. Therefore, cutting the internet services created even more tensionamong people in the country and abroad (Sheedy, 2011). Anothernegative impact that Facebook is claimed to have had on the revolution, is thefact that not only did Facebook assisted the spreading rumors exaggerating whatwas happening in the streets back then, it also gave way to heightening thepeoples’ expectations, causing mass disappointmentafterwards. For example, according toBailly (2012), around the 1st of February, there were rumors spreadingon Facebook and other social media stating that Mubarak has stepped down aspresident. Consequently, People started cheering and celebrating both on socialmedia and in real life, but the celebrations did not last, as soon after peoplerealized that it was only a rumor and felt disappointed and demotivated. Thiscould have in fact made people lose some hope and hence give up on the revolutioneven after coming that far.
Againstall claims that Facebook encouraged people to take part in the revolution bygoing to Tahrir square, or other places to protest, many people do believe thatit- in fact- limited Egyptians from taking real life action. As according toKhamis, Gold & Vaughn (2013), due to the existence of Facebook, many peoplewere satisfied with merely hitting the “Like” button on a post or statusconcerning the revolution, and even choosing to press and confirm “going” to demonstrationsor strike which they never went to. Therefore, such posts or events that werecreated on Facebook, were most of the time misleading as to what was the exactnumber of real life participants. In accordancewith the research done, the arrival and integration of social media in ourlives was not the cause of the revolution of 2011, as when numerous Egyptianactivists were asked after the revolution, they responded that they do notbelieve the claims that argue that social media was the reason behind the 2011uprising (Bailly,2012). It was only an aiding factor in accelerating themovement but not creating it.
After analyzing the perceived positive andnegative impacts that Facebook had on the Egyptian revolution, we can concludethat, the positive impact of Facebook outweighed the negative, as not only didFacebook offer the people the freedom of expressing their opinions withoutcensorship or fear, it connected them to each other, united them, and finally gavethe world a glimpse on how Egyptians are a strong, united people, who can gothrough any obstacle together no matter how difficult the situation gets. MethodologyOn the 10thof may 2017, a sample of six Egyptian teenagers were interviewed, in order toknow their opinion about the topic of this research paper; which was the roleof 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; 19-21years old, as this age was present and aware during the revolution and at thesame time uses social media applications on a daily basis.
Before theinterviews were conducted, it was assured that the interviewees all had aFacebook account and in somehow took a part in the Egyptian revolution. This isbecause they were asked to give in their opinion about the role of Facebook inthe revolution and whether they believe it was a positive or a negative one. Theinterviewees were all given fake names in order to keep them anonyms. (Omar,Adham, Menna, Eslam, Rawan and Ahmed). The interviews were all carried on thesame day, and the interviewees were notified that they are being audio recordedbefore the start of the interview. The interview was conducted in a public yeta quiet place in order to make the interviewees as comfortable as possible, andfor them to be honest and open about their opinions. Each interview continuedfor more than 15 minutes. ResultsAt thebeginning of the interview the interviewees introduced themselves by saying theirage and what they study.
During theinterview, an average of 8 questions were asked, and the interviewees were allgiven equal space and time to answer them. Those 8 questions can be categorizedinto the following; personal experience and personal point of views. For thepersonal experience it included the questions about how often do they usesocial media and if they participated in the revolution or not. And for thePersonal point of views category, the questions of what do they think of thepower of social media and what it is capable of doing, and what do they thinkprovoked the revolution, and if Facebook actually encouraged people toparticipate in the revolution and whether the impact of Facebook was negativeor positive on the revolution can be included in it. Another question that wasasked to the interviewees that falls under the same category, is whether theybelieve if another revolution occurred in Egypt, will it be also provoked bysocial media or not. The last question was their opinion on how we can use thesocial media in favor of our society. For thefirst category which was personalexperience the interviewees answered the question of how long do they usesocial 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 mediafor communication and some of them including Adham, Eslam and Ahmed, use it forwriting their opinions about different topics. While others like Omar, Rawanand Menna, stated that they do not like to post their opinions online, Most ofthe interviewees actually joined the streets during the revolution, either inthe beginning or in the last couple of days, most of the interviewees statedthat they used Facebook to share their experience with others in joining therevolution. The othercategory which was personal point ofviews, the interviewees answered that they believe that social media is themost important thing to people nowadays that’s why its very influential, they alsoagreed that social media has the ability to create or stop problems, it canjoin people together or even separate them. Especially that the social media isfree and easily accessible for everyone no matter what their social class is.
They mostly all agreed on the fact thatalso social media was the tool to actually create the revolution, however ithappened mainly because of many problems in Egypt such as Khalid Saied’s caseor church bombings. Others such as Adham and Ahmed stated that as thetechnology developed, people were able to share videos where corruption tookplace as in the past, Bluetooth was the only method to share such videos, butnow with the help of social media, sharing and posting videos became mucheasier. When they were asked about positive or negative impact of Facebook, they mainlystated that it actually had both (negative and positive) positive is that it encouragedpeople to join and negative is the part about the spreading of rumors, thateventually caused chaos, however most of them including Omar, Menna, Rawan andEslam, stated that the positive impacts outweighed the negative ones. Some ofthe participants claimed that they believe that the next revolution will not beprovoked by the social media, as people are now more aware of the problems anddo not need social media to create a revolution, while others said that socialmedia will continue to develop and increase its popularity among people, hencethe next revolution is more likely to be caused or provoked by it. When the intervieweeswere asked how can we use social media to benefit the society, they mostlyanswered that we can use it to create campaigns about positive things such as charityorganizations or teaching people some morals, or even creating awareness tomake people double check of what they see on social media, and not to believeeverything they see or read on them. DiscussionAnalyzingthe interviewees answers, we can conclude the reason why all of the six of themstated that they use social media for most of their day’s hours, it is becausesocial media is now considered a vital tool in which people can communicatewith each other and with the world as well. Moreover, and as these intervieweesfall within the age of 19-21, they attended the revolution and at that timethey had Facebook accounts and actually witnessed the role of Facebook in therevolution, this is why most of them agreed on the fact that Facebook played avery important role in the revolution.
However, when it came to their personalpoint of views, not all of the six interviewees agreed on the future of socialmedia’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 keepon developing while others stated that people are now aware of their problemsafter the revolution and no longer need social media in order to help themtaking such step once again. Analyzing theanswers of the interviewees, we can find out that most of them agreed thatFacebook had both positive and negative impacts on the revolution, however mostof them stated that the positive impacts were more than the negative ones. Andcomparing these concluding statements with the claim of the research paper, thatstated that Facebook had only a positive impact on the revolution as it was themain reason why many people actually participated in the revolution. Moreover,if we compared these answers to the previous studies that was done on thistopic, (literature review), we will find out that the conclusion of theliterature review was that Facebook actually had more positive impacts thannegative ones on the revolution. This basically agrees with the concludingstatements from the interviewees however, it contradicts with the claim as theclaim of the research paper stated that Facebook had only positive impacts andnot negative ones at all.
ConclusionConcludingthis research paper, the paper’s topic was the role of Facebook in the Egyptianrevolution, and how Facebook was on of the reasons behind the massiveparticipation in that life changing event. And how technology or social mediain general is recently penetrating every aspect of our lives including thepolitical one as well. Moreover, the claim of the paper was that Facebook hadonly a positive impact on the revolution, while at the end and from theanalysis we concluded that it had both kinds of effects (Positive and negative)even though the positive ones were more. Technology will always keep ondeveloping and flourishing, however, to what extent is technology ready topenetrate into our lives?