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Egypt’s Uprising: Tracking the Social Media Factor

BY George Griffin  April 20, 2011 at 8:14 PM EST

For the first time in history, a social movement could be observed in real-time as it spread, coalesced around ideas, and grew exponentially in size and scale across the Internet.

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That is what News Group International – a Dubai based news management company – discovered in its recent comprehensive analysis of social media surrounding the uprising in Egypt.

No one thinks Twitter or Facebook or the Egyptian site Masrawy alone took down the autocrat Hosni Mubarak after 30 years in power – but social media acted as a catalyst. In fact, social media messages and conversations about uprisings, change, political upheaval and “freedom” dominated the discussion.

News Group company founder and President Mazen Nahawi says the Middle East and North Africa region is alive with a burgeoning search for a new Arab identity and a growing discussion centered around the concept of “freedom.”  It’s bigger than Egypt he says, and it’s happening among millions of people who live across a collection of separate 22 countries but meet online.

In the first three months of this year, News Group collected, culled, and analyzed millions of Egypt-related conversations across numerous social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and the very popular Masrawy web portal in Egypt.

Read the News Group analysis here.

Some of the findings:  

  •  “Social media is a key driver, was game changer in Egypt primarily because it bridged the gap between social classes thus for the first time creating a much larger united anti-government front that included rich and poor.”
  • “Freedom of expression on social media was catalyst, “political” terms clearly on the rise in 2011 vs. 2010.”
  • “Many users think that the Arab region will be ripe for a union that ends years of unjustified split and disagreement.”
Watch A Visualization of
Tweets About Egypt

 

Nahawi’s analysis also revealed a strong neo-socialist trend among online discussion participants. As messages pinged out from Tahrir Square protestors and wider Egypt ricocheting across the Arab world, 70 percent of these online conversations directly called for a larger economic role by the government.

Interestingly says Mazen Nahawi, since the fall of Mubarak on February 11th a disconnect has appeared. Optimism towards the revolution is declining and the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood is on the rise.

The discussion goes on. Twitter is still playing a role as the new government takes shape. Click the graphic below to see messages originating from the city in real time.

“Part of what the Ben Ali regime figured out too late, and part of what the Mubarak government is contending with right now, is they didn’t understand the information environment…” – Alec Ross, Senior Advisor at the U.S. Department of State.

In early February, after government of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia fell — but before Mubarak stepped down — Alec Ross, Senior Adviser for Innovation in the Office of Secretary of State Clinton, addressed told an audience comprised of members of the diplomatic corps that social media was not the cause of the revolution in Tunisia, nor was it what made that revolution successful. Rather he used the Tunisia example to reminded them of one age-old truth; what you don’t know can hurt you.

“They didn’t understand what people were using and how. And if you don’t know what people are using and how in your country, you’re behind. And you need to do everything you can to catch up so that you feel like you’ve got a pretty good grasp of the tools that are being used in your country.”

We now have more and more ways to “understand the information environment,” through both snapshot looks and deep studies of social media, how it is being used, and by whom. Nahawi of News Group would not say his firm’s analysis could “predict” the revolution — despite the emotional and passionate feelings they observed online — but it is a new way to see and understand public sentiment. Moreover, in a region where the newspaper is far less popular than the Internet, and public opinion polls are uncommon if not unreliable, social media has become the “town square” where deep discourse is happening at Internet speeds . It serves us all to be listening.