In a chapter from the soon forthcoming book Email, social media and the art of storytelling, I wrote about how social media has reached a tipping point in the last 2 years. In 2011, the social media phenomenon has achieved complete integration into our daily lives. Today, anyone anywhere can broadcast anything, and messages can literally reach thousands of users in seconds. Mass movements can start almost instantly.
I also mentioned that nowadays the social web is not only a first-world phenomenon. According to the Financial Times, Facebook now is used by 92 percent of the internet population of Turkey, and 87 percent in Indonesia.
The activity of the past weeks in the Middle East has demonstrated the power of social media for promoting change through group action, most notably in the third-world. Particularly in Egypt, protestors have used Twitter and Facebook to organize marches and demonstrations, and to invite large numbers of individuals to participate.
As events in Egypt unfolded, similar tactics were adopted in other parts of the region. For example, on February 17, the BBC reported that “Activists used social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter to call for a ‘Day of Rage’” in Libya.
CNN explained how unrest was spreading across the Middle East, not just to Egypt and Libya but to Iran and Bahrain. Anti-government sentiment was also reported in the streets of Algeria, Syria, Yemen and Jordan. This activity was “driven by discontent and fueled by social media.”
Of course, we do not know what the longer-term impact of the recent protests will be. However, we can see that it is far more difficult today for states to withhold information, or to prevent its spread, simply because the social networks are difficult for government leaders to control.
Whatever one’s political views, it will be fascinating to monitor unfolding events and to watch the role of social media in societal transformation.