Those of us in the west who are watching the fight for democracy unfold in Egypt have been praising the role of new media like it is a godsend in a new way we protest and start revolutions. What new media does is let us reach out to those in conflict in Egypt and let them know we stand with them in solidarity. But who are we kidding? Just because you tweet it or share stories on Facebook does not make you an equal partner in their fight.
Of course the more people talk about it and educate others the better it is for those outside Egypt to understand their plight but it does not equate the power of physically being there and putting your life on the line.
We know this because during the internet blackout the protests didn’t suddenly stop or become a disorganized mess. As much as it was online, it was still completely offline and strong despite the lack of communication.
News online hasn’t come into its own on how it handles breaking stories and so it feeds into the 24-hour news cycle and the constant stream of repetition and redundancy which makes it hard to have a coherent narrative to follow.
But new media is useful is getting the stories from the people on the ground. The first hand accounts of violence and personal strife has enabled us to put a face on Egypt.
If we consider the previous revolution in Tunisia, they had press coverage but no where the online personal presence to spur on people outside the country. If this was a marketing contest, Egypt won by engaging the West through new media with its people, not just journalism.
Interestingly what recently provoked an even greater sense of solidarity in Egypt was the release of Wael Ghomim, a Google executive who started a Facebook page that helped start the protests.
I know from my political background that new media can be a great tool for organizing but it’s not by simply starting a Facebook page that you get hundreds of thousands out protesting. There was already turmoil in Egypt and it was only a matter of time before the unrest would surface, even without the internet.