How Social Media Sparked the 2011 Movement

The Egyptian population is approximately 80 million strong and of those 80 million people approximately 21% have access to the Internet and about 4.5 million have Facebook accounts. With the poor economic conditions, emergency law rule, and brutality many Egyptians faced on what seemed like a daily basis, the ease on the restriction against Internet access led to the open criticism, widespread communication, and mass cyber mobilization that contributed to the fall of former president, Hosni Mubarak in the 2011 Revolution. Many media outlets considered the use of social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube as the cause of the 2011 Revolution but this notion is misconstrued. There were many factors that caused many of the Egyptian citizens’ despair and outrage. Social media were just the outlet revolutionaries used to express their outrage and mobilize together to work towards change. It spurred the revolution once it had begun by providing a real-time commentary and notification to the outside world watching the Mubarak regime crumble.

The revolutionary movement in Egypt had begun long before the takeover of Tahrir Square on January 25th, 2011. Studies showed that blog posts and Facebook pages had been created years before what everyone came to know as the 2011 Revolution, attempting to call attention to the issues, corruption, and extremely poor economic situation in Egypt. However it wasn’t until the use of social media was transformed into a means of mass mobilization and awareness that it became more effective in its attempts at bringing down the Mubarak regime. Egyptians had been facing and dealing with corruption and brutality for years under Mubarak’s emergency law rule but it wasn’t until they gave a picture to the angry words they responded with that social media was able to produce the outcome they needed. For example, the case of Khaled Said and his death at the hands of police brutality may not necessarily have been all that uncommon or unheard of. The timing of his unfortunate death as well as the reaction the native community had to his death helped to create enough attention to the brutality Egyptians were facing. Once they gathered together and shared in their outrage on the Facebook page, “We Are All Khaled Said,” displaying very disturbing images for the world to see what they endured, that it garnered the international attention and strong sense of community it needed in order to strengthen the revolutionary movement. Social media outlets such as YouTube and Facebook provided a method for displaying the brutality of the police force more visibly to the world and calling for international pressure.

Facebook and Twitter also provided a different kind of spark for the revolutionary movement in 2011. They both called for international attention and pressure by providing a live action notification and commentary on the brutality protesters and revolutionaries faced against the police forces determined to restore “order.” There was one event, reported on Twitter by an Egyptian at the scene that gave such live action notification. Mohamed Abdelfattah, an Egyptian video journalist, released the following tweets on January 25th, 2011:

@mfatta7: Tear gas

@mfatta7: I’m suffocating

@mfatta7: We r trapped inside a building

@mfatta7: Armored vehicles outside

@mfatta7: Help we r suffocating

@mfatta7: I will be arrested

@mfatta7: Help !!!

@mfatta7: Arrested

@mfatta7: Ikve [I’ve] been beaten a lot

These tweets were sent from the scene of the protests on January 25th. They provided an immediate notice to the domestic and international community exactly what he was facing. The whole world could read the events unfold as they were happening. Because of such tweets, countries such as the United States could face domestic and international pressure to put pressure on the Mubarak regime to step down.

Despite social media’s significant effect on garnering international attention and effectiveness at organizing mass mobilization for protest movements, the revolution did not solely depend on social media for its “success” (the word success being used in relative terms, namely the resignation of Mubarak). Many of the protests did rely on images of the scene and the messages on the signs they protested with but these images and messages were not only displayed on social media. Once social media helped shine the light on the events in Egypt, news media outlets began reporting the protests, spreading the news of the movement internationally as well. Social media helped bring awareness to the Egyptians’ cause and that awareness was further reported by news sources such as Al Jazeera, CNN, BBC, Times Magazine, Foreign Policy Magazine, etc. These sources that created more international pressure on Mubarak to step down from his rule, social media aided in the process, providing the stepping-stones to getting to this point.