Social Media to the Rescue: Speak2Tweet

In last week’s blog post ‘Online Activism: Social Media & Politics’, we took a bird’s eye view of the situation in the region as a whole, and how Social Media tools were assisting in organizing protests and demonstrations in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan and other parts of the middle east. In the past week, shortly after completing the blog post, Egypt erupted into what became a revolutionary uprising that is still ongoing as this new post is being written.

The role of Social Media, despite the government shut down of the internet in Egypt for days, has shown how important it truly is in our modern lives, and how much we rely on the internet for information, assistance and ‘spreading the word’. Which leads me to wonder how on earth did our parents survive without the internet?! Especially for those of us in this turbulent part of the world…A blog post for another day.

When the Egyptian government cut off the internet and started to crack down on Media censorship, Twitter came to the rescue with the help of Google and a company called SayNow to launch a service called Speak2Tweet. This was their way of helping Egyptians and others inside Egypt find a way to communicate with the outside world. People in Egypt call a certain number and are able to leave an audio message which is then posted immediately on the SayNow website, as well as on Speak2Tweet’s twitter account. Despite most of them being in Arabic, volunteers from all over the world are translating them into English, Spanish, and French.

Other Social Networks such as Facebook and YouTube have also been playing a major part in the Egyptian uprising, with Facebook pages popping up all over the world regarding the uprising in Egypt. Videos of the protests as well as news are being posted and shared by the thousands.

All of this leads to the ultimate question: What role should social networks take when it comes to Politics and various human rights issues such as what just happened in Egypt? Should Facebook and Twitter ‘take sides’?

Online Activism: Social Media and Politics

online_activism-150x150The recent events in Egypt mirror the uprising in Tunisia just a couple of weeks ago. Those events in turn remind us of similar anti-government protests in Iran in 2009. The thing that they all have in common, and that stands out, is that all were instigated online through social networks. Online activism in the region has been erupting anywhere you look online; Facebook, Twitter and YouTube specifically.

In 2009, after the presidential elections in Iran, thousands of Iranians took to the streets for days in protests and demonstrations that rocked the country. None of us in the outside world would have heard anything about those, and the subsequent human rights violations that occurred there, had it not been for Twitter and Facebook. Despite the fact that they were blocked, and no foreign reporters are allowed into Iran, some people managed to get on other proxy’s and tweet the reality of the situation. Foreign Media was reached thanks to Twitter, and made the world aware of the dire situation there.

Fast-forward to 2011, and barely two years later, Tunisians took to the streets by the thousands in anti government protests. They succeeded; President ZineAbidine Bin Ali fled the country. There, as in Iran, social networking sites were being actively blocked by the government, but that did not stop many from bypassing those and posting and sharing videos of the revolts on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Facebook though, more than Twitter, became an indispensable resource for tracking the minute-by-minute development of the situation. The online community rallied with them in support, spreading and sharing the news and videos coming from Tunisia proving that Social media tools are powerful ways to communicate. Another thing to take note of is according to Facebook, they got thousands more users in that one month since the Tunisian uprising than ever before.

Inspired by the revolution in Tunisia, Egyptians took to the streets on January 25th. They came out in the thousands. There hadn’t been protests of this magnitude in Egypt since the 1970’s. All this would not have been possible had it not been for a simple Facebook page calling for all Egyptians to demonstrate and protest against alleged police brutality in Egypt, on the national holiday of Police Day. All day during the demonstrations people in Egypt were tweeting and re-tweeting the events happening around them, journalists and citizens alike. Despite the fact that the events in Egypt were not headline news on most TV channels in the region or internationally, it was indeed all over Twitter. The government keeps blocking Twitter as well as other social networking sites, but people are finding ways around them and continue to spread their message.

As this blog post is being written, protestors are still demonstrating in the streets of Egypt. Social Media has obviously been playing a major role in not only organizing such events, but also in spreading the word about them, and giving a rise in Citizen Journalism.

All those anti government uprisings in the region leave me wondering what’s next in Social Media when it involves politics. Online activism is translating into real results.

What, in your opinion, are the affects of Social Media in the Middle East, specifically when it comes to speaking out against something or someone?