Protesters have spun a new Arab world in the past month, causing a wave of unrest and revolt that has spread like wildfire from territory to territory. Tunisia and Egypt have emerged victorious from the struggle through the toppling of their dictatorial heads, but other countries like Libya and Bahrain are facing a dirtier fight.
[media-credit name=”Alicia Crismali / Daily Nexus” align=”alignnone” width=”250″][/media-credit]The gun in the proverbial brawl here is social media, and sites like Twitter and Facebook are changing the nature of revolution in the 21st century. Media outlets have begun dubbing Egypt the first “Facebook Revolution,” and both governments and citizens have noticed the reach and power of the social media empire.
Twitter and Facebook allow for disillusioned citizens to echo their political power in a larger forum, broadening the breadth of their voices in an online world that resounds infinitely. The power of social media websites lies in their ability to give equal representation to all who opt into its system — every Facebook user has the same right to a status and every Twitter user can tweet at their behest.
There’s no hierarchy, no elitism. It’s what democracy strives to be — a vacuum of representation that fails to filter the idiots, the geniuses, those who can’t stop talking and those who can’t be coaxed into starting.
Facebook and Twitter allow activists to slip into online avatars and consequently circumvent traditional journalism. No longer do people need to rely on journalists to embed videos or quotes into larger stories colored by bias or sympathies. Users can now become their own journalists, stitching together stories straight from the source — using their friends or neighbors to become acquainted with what’s going on elsewhere.
The question has arisen as to whether the trend toward political activism on social media websites will be confined to the Middle East. Will American statuses ever be devoted to a larger cause in such an organized way? Will they move beyond the vapid quotidian dribble that often characterizes tweets or statuses?
I think so.
In fact, I think we’re already starting to observe it. There’s no shame in seeing something for the first time on Facebook or Twitter anymore. Who won the Super Bowl? Was Obama’s State of the Union compelling? Is Congress slashing funds for Planned Parenthood?
Considering that a quarter of all online traffic goes to Facebook alone, it’s no wonder that the site has become the latest harbinger of news. While those who care about news also check the New York Times website daily, Facebook and Twitter cater to a more mixed demographic, reaching those who keep up with the news and those who don’t — perhaps even drawing otherwise uninterested users to read an article or two.
There’s one element of Facebook and Twitter that advertisers have caught on to, and it’s that everything is relative — to you.
As Mark Zuckerberg’s character says in David Fincher’s The Social Network, “people want to go on the Internet and check out their friends.” Interest stems from a network that seems broad, but also intimate. There’s always a wealth of new information on Facebook, but it’s never too far away from your own interests or appeals. It whirls around you and your online identity and is consequently always relevant. Thus, you’re interested in what your friends “like,” what they denounce, what they fight for, what they condemn or promote.
This magnetism isn’t just in the Middle East; it’s here in America too. I guarantee that if American principles are challenged in the same way that popular interests have been in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere, the online uproar would be strong and swift.
The sun never sets on the Facebook empire, and maybe that’s the secret of its infallibility.