It’s happening more than 8,000 miles away, across an ocean and across a continent.
And yet, I’m there. I’m there in front of the museum, the palace, the state television building. I’m there in the streets of Alexandria. I’m there in Tahrir square. In Mansoura, Suez, under the October 6th Bridge.
I don’t mean I am there in the cheesy, spiritual sense. Yes, yes, my thoughts are with the Egyptians. My heart is in Cairo, right. Ok. But it’s more than that. I am physically there, watching the flags fly and hearing the people chant (unfortunately) from the comfort of my living room.
How you say?
Twitter. Facebook. Youtube. Live streaming video.
Social networking is allowing
the rest of the world to be present in a
revolution that would otherwise be
distant, misunderstood, and misrepresented.
First let me say that I was always seriously opposed to the shift toward “electronic” media. Internet sites and blogs replaced my beloved newspapers. Communicating via instant messagers and Facebook decimated my beloved language (i.e., omg, ilu imu2 c u 2mm lolzzzzz*). The instant gratification that comes from getting news electronically has made people 1) impatient, 2) inattentive, and 3) incapable of appreciating journalist talent. While part of me (and my career) relies on this kind of media, the other part of me has had to — well, shut up, swallow, and abandon good old fashion journalism. Thus my move into broadcast journalism and my addiction to blogging/social networking.
I do still feel that way but I have in fact seen the light. Since January 25th, when the Egyptian people first rose up against President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak and the corrupt Egyptian government, I have completely reevaluated my stance on social media.
We had a taste of how social media could influence revolutions back in 2009/10 when Iran’s Green revolution broke out. The Iranian people used Twitter, Facebook, and blogs to “coordinate rallies, share information, and locate compatriots.” I was in an airport, flying to Israel I believe, when I first realized the significance of this. CNN’s seasoned journalists were gathering their information from random protesters that were tweeting from the protests. The free speech advocate in me was tickled pink. What could this mean? Where could this go? I got excited, possibly a little too excited! But sadly, it didn’t last long. The rebellion was squashed and westerners, as we are wont to do, got bored, moved on and forgot about it entirely.
And now here we are, not even two years since Iran’s “twitter revolution” fizzled out. The Egyptian protesters are using this relatively new technology — quite vehemently — to win their war. And it’s not coming to an end any time soon. This time, they’re going to tweet ’til they can’t tweet no more. (I should also note that I do not think that this is a social media revolution. It’s the people’s revolution and social media is just a conduit, to help people like you and I understand and maybe even support their efforts.)
So why my sudden change of heart? Newspapers are still on their last breaths, language is being reinvented (quite poorly), and news consumers are dumber and less interested than ever before. What we’re losing is tragic. However, I am ready to admit (with a glimmering tear in my eye), after a little cost benefit analysis on my part, that what we’re gaining far outweighs what we’re giving up.
First of all, social media eliminates the middle man. It’s the journalist and his/her audience. Journalists that are tweeting and blogging directing from the protests are relaying exactly what they’re seeing and experiencing without first having to go through upper management for approval. While I’m sure there will always be pressures on journalists from employers to portray only certain ideologies, this, in a way, reduces greatly the amount of corporate intervention, censorship and bias. It’s just you, the reporter and the reporters cell phone or computer. (I’d wonder what Noam Chomsky would say about this if he added another chapter to Manufacturing Consent? No filters, Noam, no filters!)
Secondly, it is minute to minute. The second news breaks, you bet someone is tweeting about it. Before the live newsfeed’s delay even catches up, someone on the ground has already heard it and has already disseminated the information. No deadlines. No agenda. Just real news, as it appears, as it is happening. That is how I imagine people felt when TV news broke onto the newspapers’ turf. This is the next, inevitable, step.
And thirdly, it’s not a one way medium. When you have a newspaper or a television broadcast, the reporter or anchor is giving you information. You’re welcome to talk back to your paper or to the TV but for the most part, there’s little response there. Sure, there are editorials, letters to the editors, etc. etc. But social media allows the audience to become an important PART of the news experience. At my job, as a producer for a morning news program, we often rely on people’s feedback on our social networking sites. People send us photographs on Facebook of car accidents, fires, snow storms. But to take it a step further, twitter allows the journalist to comment on something and for the audience — you — to respond. Immediately! I’ve done this myself, a number of times, to reporters on the ground in Cairo and more often than not, they reply.
Now, I am not a fool.
Using social media has it’s flaws, and they’re tremendous. But they’re not impossible to work around.
For one, credibility is an issue. Anyone can tweet or blog. And without any moderator, anything can be said. So yes, lies can be propagated pretty easily. However, if the public becomes intelligent enough to know which journalists to trust, it can be dealt with, I believe. It would be no different than choosing to trust Anderson Cooper over Bill O’Reilly.
Another problem is that things happen so quickly when you’re in the field. When you are working on a piece for a newspaper or for television, there is some turn around time. There is time to let the situation unfold. When you’re tweeting as things happen, things can get confusing. Something could appear to be one way, you tweet it, and it turns out you were wrong. Also, there is no time to decompress the feelings of the situation. If you’re watching your fellow country men protest, you can’t entirely separate your feelings. There is no time to think rationally, regardless of your journalistic pedigree. So, again, the solution to this lies with the audience. There needs to be a level of understanding that the public should have. If something was wrong, as long as it was clarified quickly and efficiently, all is well. Journalists are people too. Well, most of them are (I’m talking about you, Couric). Plus, honestly, mistakes happen in TV and newspapers. We all remember when it was reported that ALL of the miners in a mine collapse in South America were alive. Turned out– they were not. Also, let’s not bring up balloon boy… that media fiasco.
PAUSE. It is now 11:18 AM. On February 11th. As I am writing this, Mubarak has resigned. In an incredibly short speech, which he did not even give himself but had his Vice President Oman Suleiman deliver, Mubarak “waived” his powers over to the Egyptian military.
Never in my short lifetime have I seen anything like this. The throngs of people were in complete ecstasy. They continued chanting, singing, clapping. In the crowd, you could see one man, small and barely visible in the corner of my screen. He threw his hands up in the air as if now, he could die a happy and free man. It reminded me 1) how lucky I am to be free and 2) how happy I am to be in the journalism business. That image of that man will stick with me forever.
Which, brings me back to the topic at hand…
UN-PAUSE. This is exactly my point. As I was watching Al Jazeera’s live stream on the web, I was also watching my twitter feed. I had to refresh the page every few seconds. People — both in and out of Egypt — were elated by the news of Mubarak’s resignation and they were telling the world! Reading these tweets, from around the world, was historical.
Facebook was no exception. The friends I made while I was in Egypt were as elated as I was. Facebook-cheers of “Yallah Misr” (Let’s go Egypt!) or ”He’s finally gone!” were plastered to my news feed.
This. This is what we are gaining. And I am willing to forego classic old journalism to be apart of this.
Many of us watching as history unfolds are not Egyptian. We are not in Egypt right now, clapping our hands, waving our flags and crying. Many of us (myself excluded) have never even set foot on Egyptian soil and some may not even know an Egyptian person. But social media has brought the world together in ways I would have scoffed at mere months ago. We are all so interwoven now. The world has become so very, very small. Egypt is only the click of a button away. And so, we can all celebrate this victory as though we are all from the same race, religion, country, etc., etc. And that is a beautiful, beautiful thing…
Arab Hip Hop artist, Omar Offendum’s song #Jan25. This video was done by Tarek Esber (@tarek), someone I follow on twitter (and who you should too).