For hundreds of years now, the printed word has given a voice to the people. It has enabled repressed religious groups to establish their freedom and independence, and allowed fledgling countries to organize the support and manpower needed to break free from their oppressive overlords. There are centuries of evidence that the pen is indeed “mightier than the sword;” but in our age of technology, it appears that the Tweet may be mightier than the pen.
We all know by now about the recent social-media fueled upheavals in Egypt and Tunisia; protestors took to the web to voice their views and organize protests, acts which ultimately led to a successful revolution. Social media has given people a larger, louder voice than ever before. It allows them to reach the like-minded in both their own country and across the world. And perhaps more importantly, they are able to do it INSTANTLY. Revolutions that would have taken 10, 20, 30 years in the days before social media can now occur in that many months. Protests that would have taken weeks or months to organize can now happen in hours.
Let’s take a look at historical past revolutions. The Protestant Reformation, for example, would never have been made possible without the invention of the printing press. Johannes Gutenberg’s invention allowed Reformation leader Martin Luther to write and publish his beliefs prolifically, without Church censorship, and to distribute them to his followers and like-minded individuals, thus thrusting the reformation to the forefront of the public consciousness. Within 6 years, half of the printed works in Germany were written by Luther.
Then there is the American Revolution. Without Benjamin Franklin’s postal service, would missives have had such wide-spread reach? An organized means of distributing written information was essential to the fledgling colonies breaking free of British rule, and again in establishing the United States as a nation.
So we can see that the printed word has long played a role in disseminating information about dissidence and revolution to the people of the world and inciting the public to action. The difference between then and now is that now the people have the ability to instantly act on that information and reach a global audience.
It is important to note that, contrary to what the media and some extreme social media advocates are saying, the recent uprisings were not, in fact, “caused” by social media. They were caused by political unrest, government and military abuses of power, and poor treatment of a country’s citizens, and those citizens being unwilling to stand for it. The revolutions were, however, enabled and facilitated by social media, and quite possibly might not have been successful without it.
Stay tuned in the upcoming weeks as we post parts two and three in this series, where we’ll explore the government’s reaction to social media’s involvement in the Egyptian revolution, and speak with an Egyptian-American who has been active in using social media to advance the revolution from his home in the United States. And as always, we welcome your opinions and comments on this post and the topics it covers!
Image: Gigi Ibrahim via Flickr