Mark D. Roberts

The New York Times has run a fascinating story on the impact of Facebook and YouTube on the protests in Egypt: “Movement Began With Outrage and a Facebook Page That Gave It an Outlet.”

According to this story, last June, an Egyptian named Khaled Said was beaten to death by two Egyptian police officers. Said “was killed because the local police believed he had shot a video showing officers with illegal drugs.” This was not an unusual occurrence in Egypt. But the unusual part happened when an anonymous human rights activist put up a Facebook page in honor of Said. It included photos of his badly beaten body in the morgue. YouTube videos showed pictures of Said during his life, smiling with his family, calling for the end of violence and promising never to stop seeking what’s right.

The result of these online protests was astounding, with hundreds of thousands of Egyptians being summoned to action. Here’s an excerpt from the Times article:

But Mr. Said’s death may be the starkest example yet of the special
power of social networking tools like Facebook even — or especially — in
a police state. The Facebook page set up around his death offered
Egyptians a rare forum to bond over their outrage about government

“Prior to the murder of Khaled Said, there were blogs and YouTube videos
that existed about police torture, but there wasn’t a strong community
around them,” said Jillian C. York, the project coordinator for the
OpenNet Initiative of the Berkman Center for the Internet and Society at
Harvard University. “This case changed that.”

While it is almost impossible to isolate the impact of social media
tools from the general swirl of events that set off the popular
uprisings across the Middle East, there is little doubt that they
provided a new means for ordinary people to connect with human rights
advocates trying to amass support against police abuse, torture and the
Mubarak government’s permanent emergency laws allowing people to be
jailed without charges.

If comes as no surprise that the Egyptian government turned off the Internet before too long, though protesters continue to find ways to access it.

We hear much these days about the transforming power of the Internet, especially the social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. The case of the Egyptian protests provides a striking example.

But are there risks? Is it time to celebrate the liberating might of the Internet? Or is there a downside to all of this? More about that later. For now, what do you think?

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