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Nadworny: Revolutionary Technology

03/21/11 5:55PM By Rich Nadworny
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(HOST) For commentator Rich Nadworny, one of the most interesting things about the unexpected revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia and other part of North Africa, is the role social media played in supporting them.

(NADWORNY) The news of the unexpected revolutions in northern Africa, in Tunisia and in Egypt, has excited all of us here at home. The most amazing thing that happened is that people actually took the risk to revolt at all. For me, I'm amazed at the role social media played in making these revolts happen.

Now, I don't think anyone is saying that social media CAUSED the uprisings. Back when the Iranians rose up against their corrupt officials and fixed election, many of us were struck by how we were able to follow everything going on in Teheran through our social channels. In that instance social media played mainly the role of informing the foreign public.

But this time around, social media played a much more active role. In both Tunisia and Egypt, people used Facebook to rally around abuses and injustices. They used the tools to debunk government propaganda. And they finally used social media to help organize the rallies themselves and bring people out on the streets.

After Iran, best selling author, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a much-publicized article in the New Yorker criticizing the role of social media in revolutions. Gladwell believed that revolutions need a strict, top down hierarchy with strong personal connections to succeed. Social media, he argued, is all about weak connections which is  good for information, but lousy to get people to actually take action.

The events over the last few months seem to prove Gladwell wrong. Social media can, it seems, encourage people to gather and even to overthrow despots. I think a crucial ingredient here is the existence of a solid middle class. It's that class that understands best how much opportunity they lose through institutionalized corruption and greed. It's that class which has access to the technology and to the world outside of their own country.

Those are the people who rose up in Egypt and Tunisia. They were already on Facebook and Twitter before any of this happened.  When you think about it, those were the types of people who started our American Revolution: middle class, educated, and dependent on the hot technology of the day, the political pamphlet.

No, technology doesn't cause revolutions. But new technology usually gives people the means to communicate ideas with one another and to challenge official information.  A true sign of danger, corruption and despotism is when governments, companies or political organizations try to limit news and criticism while increasing propaganda.

People in Tunisia and Egypt finally got fed up with the corruption, the abuse of power and the propaganda. Social media gave the people the communication tools they needed to organize.

It's a warning to oligarchs all over the world, even here in the U.S. People will continue to use social media to call out falsehoods and abuses. And in the decade ahead, it's likely we'll see more of this as technological access accelerates around the world.

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