The revolution won’t be televised.
If the cause célèbre of uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa are any indication, it will instead be tweeted, linked, posted, hashtaged, reposted, and followed.
This year’s historical role call of political unrest can be seen not only as a bellwether for people’s unwavering calls for change, but proof that we no longer live in a world that will allow voices — anyone’s — to go unheard.
This year more than ever, social media have proven a critical tool for citizens effecting change under the thumb of regimes that oppress them.
In Libya, Facebook was instrumental in igniting protests in Benghazi, where hundreds of thousands of citizens rallied against Muammar Gaddafi and the decades of atrocities committed under his regime.
In Egypt, anger over widespread government corruption resulted in a series of rattling demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak, finally causing him to step down. Popular Facebook pages such as “We Are All Khaled Said” — which made online headlines of an Egyptian businessman allegedly beaten to death by Egyptian police in 2010 — were a call-to-arms for nearly one million Egyptians and was instrumental in the country’s uprising and Mubarak’s final resignation.
After more than three decades of autocratic rule, Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced he would not seek another term in office, the result of millions of protesters who took to the streets — after initially rallying on Facebook and Twitter — to confront his government’s ubiquitous corruption, lack of democratic reforms and human rights abuses.
In Tunisia earlier this year, President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali stepped down amid widespread citizen opposition curried in part by — you guessed it — social media. Word of police opening fire on demonstrators spread through the social media channels like wildfire, igniting citizens to take action.
It would be a mistake to assume that social media itself was the cause of all this commotion. Twitter and Facebook didn’t invent concepts like democracy and freedom — we did. Rather, social media’s raison d’etre lies in its ability to broadcast what is intrinsically us. Earlier this year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. now plans to spend $25 million each year supporting online dissidents living in repressive regimes. It is simply no longer a question whether social media can work as a catalyst for change. What’s important to understand here is that while social media broadcasts a voice for the voiceless, it does not serve as the voice itself. It simply enables us to share what was there from the beginning.
Change has always been the single biggest threat to oppressive regimes. When new technologies enable faster and clearer forums of communication, our ability to share ideas en masse shapes who we are and, inevitably, evolves the human conversation. It ensures a proliferation of new ideas, a language for tomorrow. The world won’t wait for change. It has become increasingly obvious that silencing people — or an entire nation of them — from participating in this marketplace of ideas is no longer an option. Dictatorships are soooo yesterday.
The worldwide struggles for freedom and democracy illuminate their universality in the human spirit. Being free is more than an unalienable right — it is woven into the fiber of our very being.
History offers irrefutable proof: if there weren’t people who stood up and questioned the status quo every once in a while, we’d still be living in caves.