Social media’s role in the Egyptian revolution has been widely hyped in the media. While it certainly played an important role, much of the prevailing narrative both overhypes its importance and misses some key aspects of social media’s value during the events leading up to the revolution.
After 40 years of emergency law suppressing political activity and opposition parties, it is hard to know how Egypt’s unleashed political energies will coalesce into specific groups and movements competing for power. What will be the role of religion, secular ideologies, labor interests, and new youth movements? Which issues will citizens rally around and which will divide them? What will be the role of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has faced its own internal struggle between old-guard leadership and wired young brothers? Social media, which played a key role in organizing Egypt’s revolution, can also provide insights into future developments. Egypt’s online discourse has for years reflected the growing cross-factional coalition that ultimately showed up in the streets, and with restrictions on free expression removed, the online footprint of future political competition should be equally clear.
In order to dig deeper and look beyond the conventional narrative, we have assembled a panel of experts, each with a unique perspective. John Kelly, founder and lead scientist at Morningside Analytics, has conducted extensive analysis of the interactions among the various social media channels leading up to and through the revolution. Nadine Wahab worked closely with Wael Ghonim, who assumed the identity El Shaheed to organize nearly 100,000 people on the Facebook page “We Are All Khaled Said.” Rob Faris is the research director at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Mike Giglio is a reporter for Newsweek who has written extensively on the Egyptian revolution, including Facebook’s role. And our moderator, Brian Katulis, is a Senior Fellow and the lead Middle East Policy Expert at the Center for American Progress.
Panelists will provide a quick assessment of the role social media played in the events leading up to and during the Egyptian revolution, and then turn their focus on exploring how social media can be used to identify future uprisings and revolutions before they happen: What are the clues to look for and how can we systematically find them?