The ousting of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak by civilian protesters has been cited as a significant demonstration of the power of social media. Twitter and Facebook were used by protesters to mobilise and coordinate action, and to galvanise will against an oppressive regime (McCarthy 2011). Perhaps the greatest testament to the influence of social media in this case, was the Egyptian Government’s attempt to shut down their use completely, albeit unsuccessfully.
Shirky (2011) suggests that internet freedom aids advancement of a civil society, and as in the case of Egypt, openness of the internet may act as a gauge of democracy, or the political health of a nation. It has also been proposed that empowerment through social media might be achieved on psychological level, and that civic engagement online might have real effects on individuals’ feelings of self-efficacy and control (Leung 2009, 1330).
Like every facet of new media however, political activism and social media are double-edged swords, with governments using the same social media tools to monitor dissidence and crack down on protesters (Shirky 2011). Lee (2011) suggests strategies for new media use by political parties are still in their infancy, however, and could also carry significant risk. The public nature of new media may therefore have dangerous consequences that must be weighed against the potential to achieve social change.
Lee, Faith. 2011. “Politics and new media,” Faithchantal’s Blog, March 26. Accessed March 26. http://faithchantal.wordpress.com/2011/03/26/politics-and-new- media/
Leung, Louis. 2009. “User-generated content on the internet: An examination of gratifications, civic engagement and psychological empowerment.” New Media & Society 11 (8): 1327-1347.
McCarthy, Caroline. “Egypt, Twitter, and the rise of the watchdog crowd.” Last modified February 11, 2011. http://news.cnet.com/8301-13577_3-20031600- 36.html
Shirky, Clay. 2011. “The political power of social media: Technology, the public sphere, and political change.” Foreign Affairs 90 (1): 28-43.