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Sep 27th 2010, 20:56 by R.A. | WASHINGTON MALCOLM GLADWELL is generally quite good at brushing away complicating details and getting the big picture. But not always. His latest New Yorker HYPERLINK "http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/10/04/101004fa_fact_gladwell? currentPage=all" piece, on the revolutionary power of social media, is one of those not always times. Mr Gladwell argues that social networking platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, are not likely to be helpful in generating real social change, a la the American Civil Rights movement. Why? He cites two key reasons. First, effective social movements require sacrifice, which is built on strong bonds between people—the kind where you can demand real participation from each other. Social networks, on the other hand, are good for building and maintaining thousands of weak relationships—the kind where you can get people to "like" your cause or re-tweet your message, but not show up to an actual protest. Secondly, real social movements require hierarchical organisation to be effective— someone has to be strategising and coordinating. Social networks aren't hierarchical; they're networks. That makes them flexible and resilient, but not particularly strategic or goal-oriented. And so, Mr Gladwell says, social networks will be useful for all kinds of things, but not for the really hard tasks involved in social change. Tyler Cowen HYPERLINK "http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/ 2010/09/will-social-networks-boost-social-change.html" suggests Mr Gladwell may not have this quite right. The point is well-taken but still activism of some kinds should go up. Loose ties favor campaigns to get out the vote and sign petitions; those developments can bring about many positive changes. Most unsettled issues in American politics oday would not be well-served by organizing less cooperative confrontations, even if you perceive a great injustice. I believe that "making the existing social order" more efficient, to use Gladwell's phrase, is positively correlated with many desirable reforms, as are the qualities of "resilience" and "adaptability." If we look at the recent experience in Iran, web mobilization seems to have encouraged -- not discouraged -- people from risking their lives for a cause. I think Mr Gladwell misses a number of crucial things. One mistake is to assume that social media merely increases weak ties. In my experience, it strengthens ties generally. Networks like Twitter and Facebook reduce the cost of minor interactions, which leads to more minor interactions. Mr Gladwell sees this and notes the rise in
minor interactions between thousands of quasi-friends. What he misses is that repeated minor actions are also the means by which stronger relationships are kept strong. These platforms make it easier to maintain friendships through trying times and circumstances. Another of his errors comes from downplaying the significance of resilience and redundance. The problem with a hierarchical system is that it breaks easily and catastrophically. If its leader makes a mistake or is somehow neutralised, the movement suffers a crucial blow. Networks, on the other hand, are bottom-up enterprises. They're very difficult to shut-down or break. And this gets to the really, marvelously subversive thing about networks: the way in which they equalise information relationships. On social networks, anyone and everyone becomes a producer of content, and this function is taken away from central actors susceptible to control by the powerful. Where social networks penetrate, governments cannot control the story. This is true in places like Iran, and in America. It has been fascinating, in recent years, to observe the number of cases in which police abuse of some sort or another has been exposed thanks to the distributed information gathering and filtering powers of social networks. Social networking, it seems to me, has quite clearly shifted the balance of power away from centralised power and authority. Perhaps we haven't observed clear evidence of its revolutionary potential yet, but this shift alone seems extremely promising. And what is not seen might be just as important; in a world in which information can't be controlled, abuses of power should become costlier and more rare. Twitter might, in some cases, make actual protests unnecessary. And that would be a good thing.
The truth about Twitter, Facebook and the uprisings in the Arab world
Recent events in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt have been called 'Twitter revolutions' – but can social networking overthrow a government? Our correspondent reports from the Middle East on how activists are really using the web Facebook graffiti in Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images Europe Think of the defining image of the uprisings in the HYPERLINK "http:// www.guardian.co.uk/world/middleeast" \o "More from guardian.co.uk on Middle East" Middle East and North HYPERLINK "http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/africa" \o "More from guardian.co.uk on Africa" Africa – the idea that unites HYPERLINK "http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/egypt" \o "More from guardian.co.uk on Egypt" Egypt with HYPERLINK "http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/tunisia" \o "More from guardian.co.uk on Tunisia" Tunisia, HYPERLINK "http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/ bahrain" \o "More from guardian.co.uk on Bahrain" Bahrain and HYPERLINK "http:// www.guardian.co.uk/world/libya" \o "More from guardian.co.uk on Libya" Libya. It has not been, in itself, the celebrations of Hosni Mubarak's fall nor the battles in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Nor even the fact of Mohammed Bouazizi's self-immolation in the central Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, which acted as a trigger for all the events that have unfolded. Instead, that defining image is this: a young woman or a young man with a smartphone. She's in the Medina in Tunis with a BlackBerry held aloft, taking a picture of a demonstration outside the prime minister's house. He is an angry Egyptian doctor in an aid station stooping to capture the image of a man with a head injury from missiles thrown by Mubarak's supporters. Or it is a Libyan in Benghazi running with his phone switched to a jerky video mode, surprised when the youth in front of him is shot through the head. All of them are images that have found their way on to the internet through social media sites. And it's not just images. In Tahrir Square I sat one morning next to a 60-year-old surgeon cheerfully tweeting his involvement in the HYPERLINK "http:// www.guardian.co.uk/world/protest" \o "More from guardian.co.uk on Protest" protest. The barricades today do not bristle with bayonets and rifles, but with phones.
As commentators have tried to imagine the nature of the uprisings, they have attempted to cast them as many things: as an Arab version of the eastern European revolutions of 1989 or something akin to the Iranian revolution that toppled the Shah in 1979. Most often, though, they have tried to conceive them through the media that informed them – as the result of WikiLeaks, as "Twitter revolutions" or inspired by Facebook. All of which, as American media commentator HYPERLINK "http://pressthink.org/ 2011/02/the-twitter-cant-topple-dictators-article/" \o "Jay Rosen: The Twitter Cant Topple Dictators Article" Jay Rosen has written, has generated an equally controversialist class of article in reply, most often written far from the revolutions. These stories are not simply sceptical about the contribution of social media, but determined to deny it has played any part. Those at the vanguard of this argument include Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker ( HYPERLINK "http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2011/02/doesegypt-need-twitter.html" \o "New Yorker: Does Egypt Need Twitter?" Does Egypt Need Twitter?), the New Statesman's Laurie Penny ( HYPERLINK "http:// www.newstatesman.com/blogs/laurie-penny/2011/02/uprisings-media-internet" \o "New Statesman: Revolts Dont Have to be Tweeted" Revolts Don't Have to be Tweeted) and even David Kravets of Wired.co.uk ( HYPERLINK "http:// www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2011-01/28/middle-east-protests-twitter" \o "Wired.co.uk: Whats Fuelling Mideast protests? Its More Than Twitter" What's Fuelling Mideast protests? It's More Than Twitter). All have argued one way or another that since there were revolutions before social media, and it is people who make revolutions, how could it be important? Except social media has played a role. For those of us who have covered these events, it has been unavoidable. Precisely how we communicate in these moments of historic crisis and transformation is important. The medium that carries the message shapes and defines as well as the message itself. The instantaneous nature of how social media communicate self-broadcast ideas, unlimited by publication deadlines and broadcast news slots, explains in part the speed at which these revolutions have unravelled, their almost viral spread across a region. It explains, too, the often loose and nonhierarchical organisation of the protest movements unconsciously modelled on the networks of the web. HYPERLINK "http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jose-antonio-vargas/egypt-age-ofdisruption-me-in-media_b_819481.html" \o "Huffington Post: Egypt, The Age Of Disruption And The 'Me' In Media" Speaking recently to the Huffington Post, Rosen argued that those taking positions at either extreme of the debate were being lazy and inaccurate. "Wildly overdrawn claims about social media, often made with weaselly question marks (like: 'Tunisia's Twitter revolution?') and the derisive debunking that follows from those claims ('It's not that simple!') only appear to be opposite perspectives. In fact, they are two modes in which the same weightless discourse is conducted. "Revolutionary hype is social change analysis on the cheap. Debunking is technorealism on the cheap. Neither one tells us much about our world." A protester in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Beirut. Photograph: Sharif Karim/ REUTERS Rosen is right. And when I began researching this subject I too started out as a
sceptic. But what I witnessed on the ground in Tunisia and Egypt challenged my preconceptions, as did the evidence that has emerged from both Libya and Bahrain. For neither the notion of the "Twitter Revolutions" or their un-Twitterness, accurately reflects the reality. Often, the contribution of social networks to the Arab uprisings has been as important as it also has been complex, contradictory and misunderstood. Instead, the importance and impact of social media on each of the rebellions we have seen this year has been defined by specific local factors (not least how people live their lives online in individual countries and what state limits were in place). Its role has been shaped too by how well organised the groups using social media have been. When Tarak Mekki, an exiled Tunisian businessman, politician and internet activist returned to Tunisia from Canada in the days after the Jasmine Revolution he was greeted by a crowd of hundreds. Most of them know Mekki for One Thousand and One Nights, the Monday-night video he used to post on YouTube ridiculing the regime of the fled President Zine Alabidine Ben Ali. "It's amazing that we participated via the internet in ousting him," he said on his arrival. "Via uploading videos. What we did on the internet had credibility and that's why it was successful." Tunisia was vulnerable – under the Ben Ali regime – to the kind of external and internal dissent represented by One Thousand and One Nights. In a state where the media were tightly controlled and the opposition ruthlessly discouraged, Tunisia not only exercised a tight monopoly on internet provision but blocked access to most HYPERLINK "http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/socialnetworking" \o "More from guardian.co.uk on Social networking" social networking sites – except Facebook. "They wanted to close Facebook down in the first quarter of 2009," says Khaled Koubaa, president of the Internet Society in Tunisia, "but it was very difficult. So many people were using it that it appears that the regime backed off because they thought banning it might actually cause more problems [than leaving it]." Indeed, when the Tunisian government did shut it down briefly, for 16 days in August 2008, it was confronted with a threat by cyber activists to close their internet accounts. The regime was forced to back down. Instead, says Koubaa, the Tunisian authorities attempted to harass those posting on Facebook. "If they became aware of you on Facebook they would try to divert your account to a fake login page to steal your password." And despite the claims of Tunisia being a Twitter revolution – or inspired by WikiLeaks – neither played much of a part. In Tunisia, pre-revolution, only around 200 active tweeters existed out of around 2,000 with registered accounts. The WikiLeaks pages on Tunisian corruption, says Koubaa, who with his friends attempted to set up sites where his countrymen could view them, were blocked as soon as they appeared – and anyway, the information was hardly news to Tunisians. However, "Facebook was huge," he says. Koubaa argues that social media during Ben Ali's dictatorship existed on two levels. A few thousand "geeks" like him communicated via Twitter, while perhaps two million talked on Facebook. The activism of the first group informed that of the latter. All of which left a peculiar loophole that persisted until December, when the regime
finally launched a full-scale attack against Facebook. This in in a country that already tortured and imprisoned bloggers, and where the country's internet censors at the Ministry of the Interior were nicknamed "Amar 404" after the 404 error message that appeared when a page was blocked. "Social media was absolutely crucial," says Koubaa. "Three months before Mohammed Bouazizi burned himself in Sidi Bouzid we had a similar case in Monastir. But no one knew about it because it was not filmed. What made a difference this time is that the images of Bouazizi were put on Facebook and everybody saw it." And with state censorship rife in many of these countries, Facebook has functioned in the way the media should – as a source of information. Around a week after Ben Ali's fall, I run into Nouridine Bhourri, a 24-year-old call-centre worker, at a demonstration in Tunis against the presence in the government of former members of the old regime. "We still don't believe the news and television," he says, a not surprising fact when many of the orginal journalists are still working. "I research what's happening on Facebook and the internet." Like many, Bhourri has become a foot soldier in the internet campaign against the old Tunisian regime. "I put up amateur video on Facebook. For instance, a friend got some footage of a sniper on Avenue de Carthage. It's what I've been doing, even during the crisis. You share video and pictures. It was if you wrote something – or made it yourself – that there was a real problem." A Bahraini protester displays a picture of a wounded man on her phone. Photograph: Hassan Ammar/AP If Twitter had negligible influence on events in Tunisia, the same could not be said for Egypt. A far more mature and extensive social media environment played a crucial role in organising the uprising against Mubarak, whose government responded by ordering mobile service providers to send text messages rallying his supporters – a trick that has been replicated in the past week by Muammar Gaddafi. In Egypt, details of demonstrations were circulated by both Facebook and Twitter and the activists' 12-page guide to confronting the regime was distributed by email. Then, the Mubarak regime – like Ben Ali's before it – pulled the plug on the country's internet services and 3G network. What social media was replaced by then – oddly enough – was the analogue equivalent of Twitter: handheld signs held aloft at demonstrations saying where and when people should gather the next day. HYPERLINK "http://twitter.com/sultanalqassemi" \o "Sultan Al Qassemi on Twitter" Sultan Al Qassemi, a columnist based in the United Arab Emirates who has tweeted non-stop on the uprisings, passing on information and English translations of key speeches, believes that some claims about the impact of social media need to be taken with a pinch of salt. "Social media has certainly played a part in the Arab Spring Revolutions but its impact is often exaggerated on the inside. Egypt was disconnected from the outside world for days and yet the movement never stopped. I have missed work, I have missed sleep, I have forgotten to eat, I have strained my eyes, fingers and hands, I am not Tunisian, Egyptian or Libyan, but it's all been worth it. "Today Libya is facing an even more severe internet disruption, yet we continue to see the movement picking up pace. Where social media had a major impact was
conveying the news to the outside world, bloggers and Twitter users were able to transmit news bites that would otherwise never make it to mainstream news media. "This information has been instrumental in garnering the attention of the citizens of the world who expressed solidarity with those suppressed individuals and may even put pressure on their own governments to react. Other uses for social media were to transmit information on medical requirements, essential telephone numbers and the satellite frequencies of Al Jazeera – which is continuously being disrupted." Indeed, this is what has been most obvious about social media's impact in Bahrain and Libya in the past week. Social networking sites have supplied the most graphic images of the crackdowns on protesters, but also broadcast messages from hospitals looking for blood, rallied demonstrators and provided international dial-up numbers for those whose internet has been blocked. Libyan activists also asked Egyptians to send their sim cards across the border so they could communicate without being bugged. But above all it has been about the ability to communicate. Egyptian-born blogger HYPERLINK "http://www.monaeltahawy.com/" \o "Mona Eltahawy" Mona Eltahawy says that social media has given the most marginalised groups in the region a voice. To say "'Enough' and 'This is how I feel.'" In many respects, what people were doing on Facebook and Twitter was just what dissident bloggers had been doing in the runup to the uprisings – often at great risk. And in Tunisia under its old regime – as elsewhere – the consequences for blogging against the government's abuses could be extremely harsh. Zuhair Yahyaoui, the founder of HYPERLINK "http://www.tunezine.com/" \o "Tunezine.com" Tunezine, an opposition website, was imprisoned, not least for publishing a letter written by his uncle, a judge, demanding an independent judiciary. Tortured and abused in prison, he died two years after his release, aged 37. "It was a heart attack," his uncle Mokhtar told the Guardian, "and it was made worse by prison." One day in Tunisia I meet Lina Ben Mhenni, who blogs under the name HYPERLINK "http://atunisiangirl.blogspot.com/" \o "A Tunisian Girl" A Tunisian Girl. The 27year-old teacher of linguistics at Tunis University was one of the most high-profile bloggers following Mohammed Bouazizi's self-immolation, travelling to his home town of Sidi Bouzid to chronicle events both for her blog and Facebook. "It was through Facebook that the first support groups following what happened in Sidi Bouzid were set up and the first demonstrations organised," she says. "Social media was critical at a time when everything else was censored." Which is not to say that everything broadcast over social media sites has been either accurate or reliable. The unedited and unmediated nature of the stories that have been told have led to inaccuracies, which have sometimes proven beneficial to those opposing the regime. One of these narratives – created right at the beginning – was the story of Bouazizi himself. The story of a university graduate forced to sell fruit who killed himself when he could not even do that proved to be incendiary. Except one of the key facts wasn't true. Bouazizi not only hadn't been to university, he had not even completed
his school baccalaureate. And while it is unclear how the story came to be so widely believed, what is certain is that some people have planted material they believe is helpful, even if it is not true. Video of a demonstration – claimed to be a recent gathering in Iran – and placed on social media sites was actually a protest that occurred in 2009. The footage was unmasked as a fraud by Twitter users, ironically enough. But there has been another critical factor at work that has ensured that social media has maintained a high profile in these revolutions. That is the strong reliance that mainstream media such as the Doha-based television network Al Jazeera has had to place on material smuggled out via Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. This arrangement means that videos have often been broadcast back in to the country of origin – when Al Jazeera has managed to avoid having its signal blocked. For me it is a phenomena best summed up by an encounter I had with a group of young Tunisians I met during a demonstration on the day after my arrival in Tunis. I asked them what they were photographing with their phones. "Ourselves. Our revolution. We put it on Facebook," one replied laughing, as if it were a stupid question. "It's how we tell the world what's happening."
Facebook and Twitter are just places revolutionaries go
Cyber-utopians who believe the Arab spring has been driven by social networks ignore the real-world activism underpinning them Tahrir Square … 'The current fascination with technology-driven accounts of political change in the Middle East is likely to subside.' Photograph: APAimages / Rex Features Tweets were sent. Dictators were toppled. Internet = democracy. QED. Sadly, this is the level of nuance in most popular accounts of the internet's contribution to the recent unrest in the Middle East. It's been extremely entertaining to watch cyber-utopians – adherents of the view that digital tools of social networking such as Facebook and Twitter can summon up social revolutions out of the ether – trip over one another in an effort to put another nail in the coffin of cyber-realism, the position I've recently advanced in my book HYPERLINK "http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jan/09/net-delusion-morozovreview" \o "Guardian: 'The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate the World by Evgeny Morozov review'" The Net Delusion. In my book, I argue that these digital tools are simply, well, tools, and social change continues to involve many painstaking, longerterm efforts to engage with political institutions and reform movements. Since the internet's cheerleaders can't bury cyber-realism any more than they can secede from history, they've had to design their own straw-man interpretation of the cyber-realist position, equating it with a view that the internet doesn't matter. This is a caricature of the cyber-realist worldview that doesn't really square with parts of my book that very explicitly state – here is just one quote – that "the internet is more important and disruptive than [its greatest advocates] have previously theorised".
Or take the ongoing persecution of Malcolm Gladwell, who is increasingly painted as some kind of a neo-Luddite. In an online chat that Gladwell did for the New Yorker's website shortly after his HYPERLINK "http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/ 2010/10/04/101004fa_fact_gladwell?printable=true" \o "New Yorker: 'Small change: why the revolution will not be tweeted'" infamous attack on the notion of "Twitter Revolution" was published last October, he explicitly stated (no less than three times) that the internet can be an effective tool for political change when used by grassroots organisations (as opposed to atomised individuals). Thus, simply showing that the internet was used to publicise, and even organise protests in the Middle East does nothing to counter his argument (which, by the way, I do not entirely endorse). To refute it, cyber-utopians would need to establish that there was no coordination of these protests by networks of grassroots activists – with leaders and hierarchies – who have forged strong ties (online or offline or both) prior to the protests. What we have seen so far suggests otherwise. True, the principal organisers of Egypt's Facebook movement may not be revolutionary leaders in the conventional understanding of the term. (And how could they be, given the grim track-record that former president Hosni Mubarak compiled – with Washington's complicity – in dispatching such leaders?) However, they did exercise leadership and acted strategically – even going into hiding a few days before the actual protests – just as leaders of a revolutionary cell would. The collaborations between Tunisian and Egyptian cyber-activists – so widely HYPERLINK "http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/14/world/middleeast/14egypttunisia-protests.html" \o "NYT: 'A Tunisian-Egyptian Link That Shook Arab History'" celebrated in the press – were not virtual, either. In the space of a week in May 2009, I crashed two (independently organised) workshops in Cairo, where bloggers, techies, and activists from both countries were present in person, sharing tips on how to engage in advocacy and circumvent censorship; one of the attendees was the Tunisian blogger HYPERLINK "http://twitter.com/slim404" \o "Twitter: Slim Amamou" Slim Amamou, who went on to become HYPERLINK "http:// www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/18/tunisia-dissident-blogger-minister" \o "Guardian: 'Tunisian dissident blogger takes job as minister'" Tunisia's minister of sport and youth. One of these events was funded by the US government and the other by George Soros's HYPERLINK "http://www.soros.org/" \o "Open Society Foundations website" Open Society Foundations (with which I'm affiliated). There were many more events like this – not just in Cairo, but also in Beirut and Dubai. Most of them were never publicised, since the security of many participants was at risk, but they effectively belie the idea that the recent protests were organised by random people doing random things online. Those who believe that these networks were purely virtual and spontaneous are ignorant of the recent history of cyber-activism in the Middle East – to say nothing of the support that it's received, sometimes successful but most often not, from western governments, foundations and corporations. In September 2010, to take just one recent example, Google brought a dozen bloggers from the region to the HYPERLINK "http:// www.huffingtonpost.com/david-nassar/google-convenes-in-budape_b_738571.html" \o "Huffington Post: 'Google Convenes in Budapest on Internet Liberty'" freedom of expression conference the company convened in Budapest. Tracing the evolution of these activist networks would require more than just studying their Facebook profiles; it would demand painstaking investigative work – on the phone and in the archives – that cannot happen overnight. One reason we keep talking about the role of Twitter and Facebook is that the immediate aftermath
of the Middle Eastern spring has left us so little else to talk about; thoroughgoing political analysis of the causes of these revolutions won't be available for a few years. This points us to the real reason why so many cyber-utopians got angry with Gladwell: in a HYPERLINK "http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/ 2011/02/does-egypt-need-twitter.html" \o "New Yorker: Does Egypt need Twitter?" follow-up blog post to his article that appeared as the crowds were still occupying Tahrir Square, he dared to suggest that the grievances that pushed protesters into the streets deserve far more attention than the tools by which they chose to organise. This was akin to spitting in the faces of the digerati – or, perhaps worse still, on their iPads – and they reacted accordingly. And yet Gladwell was probably right: today, the role of the telegraph in the 1917 Bolshevik revolution – just like the role of the tape-recorder in the 1979 Iranian revolution and of the fax machine in the 1989 revolutions – is of interest to a handful of academics and virtually no one else. The fetishism of technology is at its strongest immediately after a revolution but tends to subside shortly afterward. In his 1993 bestseller HYPERLINK "http://www.amazon.co.uk/Magic-LanternRevolution-Witnessed-Budapest/dp/0679740481" \o "Amazon: The Magic Lantern" The Magic Lantern, Timothy Garton Ash, one of the most acute observers of the 1989 revolutions, proclaimed that "in Europe at the end of the 20th century, all revolutions are telerevolutions" – but in retrospect, the role of television in those events seems like a very minor point. Will history consign Twitter and Facebook to much the same fate 20 years down the road? In all likelihood, yes. The current fascination with technology-driven accounts of political change in the Middle East is likely to subside, for a number of reasons. First of all, while the recent round of uprisings may seem spontaneous to western observers – and therefore as magically disruptive as a rush-hour flash mob in San Francisco – the actual history of popular regime change tends to diminish the central role commonly ascribed to technology. By emphasising the liberating role of the tools and downplaying the role of human agency, such accounts make Americans feel proud of their own contribution to events in the Middle East. After all, the argument goes, such a spontaneous uprising wouldn't have succeeded before Facebook was around – so Silicon Valley deserves a lion's share of the credit. If, of course, the uprising was not spontaneous and its leaders chose Facebook simply because that's where everybody is, it's a far less glamorous story. Second, social media – by the very virtue of being "social" – lends itself to glib, pundit-style overestimations of its own importance. In 1989, the fax-machine industry didn't employ an army of lobbyists – and fax users didn't feel the same level of attachment to these clunky machines as today's Facebook users feel toward their all-powerful social network. Perhaps the outsize revolutionary claims for social media now circulating throughout the west are only a manifestation of western guilt for wasting so much time on social media: after all, if it helps to spread democracy in the Middle East, it can't be all that bad to while away the hours "poking" your friends and playing HYPERLINK "http://www.facebook.com/FarmVille" \o "Facebook: FarmVille" FarmVille. But the recent history of technology strongly suggests that today's vogue for Facebook and Twitter will fade as online audiences migrate to new services. Already, tech enthusiasts are blushing at the memory of the serious academic conferences once devoted to the MySpace revolution.
Third, the people who serve as our immediate sources about the protests may simply be too excited to provide a balanced view. Could it be that the Google sales executive HYPERLINK "http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/08/waelghonim-tahrir-square" \o "Guardian: 'Wael Ghonim anointed voice of the revolution by Tahrir Square faithful'" Wael Ghonim – probably the first revolutionary with an MBA – who has emerged as the public face of Egypt's uprising, vowing to publish his own book about " HYPERLINK "http://www.myweku.com/2011/02/revolution-2-0preview-of-cnn-interview-with-wael-ghonim/" \o "CNN: Revolution 2.0: CNN interview with Wael Ghonim'" Revolution 2.0", is slightly overstating the role of technology, while also downplaying his own role in the lead-up to the protests? After all, the world has yet to meet a Soviet dissident who doesn't think it was the fax machine that toppled the Politburo – or a former employee of HYPERLINK "http:// www.rferl.org/" \o "Radio Free Europe website" Radio Free Europe or HYPERLINK "http://www.voanews.com/english/news/" \o "Voice of America website" Voice of America who doesn't think it was western radio broadcasting that brought down the Berlin Wall. This is not to suggest that neither of these communications devices played a role in these decades-old uprisings – but it is to note that the people directly involved may not have the most dispassionate appraisals of how these watershed events occurred. If they don't want to condemn themselves to a future of tedious bar-room arguments with the grizzled, and somewhat cranky holdouts from the 1989 fax glory days, or the true believers of the Radio Free Europe Revolution, then today's cyberutopians need to log off their Facebook accounts and try a little harder.
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