Why has Facebook cut off its ties to the Arab Spring?

November 24, 2016 23:04

On October 2010, Malcolm Gladwell, a Canadian journalist, published an article in The New Yorker Magazine titled "The revolution will not be Tweeted". In his article, Gladwell claimed that while social networks play a significant role in our lives, they will never be able to bring about revolutions similar to the ones witnessed in America during the 1960's.

The Canadian native offered several arguments in support of his theory. The first is that most people will fight for a cause if urged to do so by close friends or companions. One's "friends" on Facebook don’t necessarily qualify as such. After all, even the checkout girl at my local grocery is listed as a friend on my profile.

Secondly, Gladwell claimed that joining a revolution is an act of "high risk activism". One doesn’t storm the Bastille as easily as he "shares" a Facebook petition. Lastly, it is much easier to press a button on your virtual profile than to suffocate on tear gas.

This is the familiar debate of Slacktivism vs. Activism. Slacktivism means changing your profile to "you guys! Let's totally free Gilad Schalit". Activism is taking a tent and occupying Tel Aviv's Rothschild Blvd.

Several months later, Gladwell's theory would come under attack as Facebook and Twitter were hailed as the mediums that brought about the Arab Spring's first revolutions. In it their heyday, the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions were dubbed the "Facebook Revolutions". Media outlets throughout the world praised Mark Zukerberg's creation as if it were the one standing in front of tanks. The hype around Facebook was just as big as the hype around Cairo's Tahrir square.

Gladwell failed to recognize the role Facebook would ultimately play in these revolutions since his arguments were some what flawed. The world of Facebook does not exist in parallel to the real one. On the contrary, Facebook is the expression of the real world by virtual means.

Research has shown that people use Facebook mainly in order to maintain or deepen pre existing relationships. In other words, most of the friends that interest you on line also interest you off line. Thus, when they cry "charge!" you are willing to do so.

The social network is the extension of the real world in virtual settings. The jokes that start in the classroom continue in the chat room. Facebook is the new after school playground.

But it is also much more than that, it's the new town square.

In the course of the Arab Spring, Facebook evolved into something more profound than a place where peers can interact. It became the new "Radio Free Europe", the most awesome promoter of free speech in the world.

The ideas that lead to the revolt in Cairo's Tahrier square were first articulated on users' profiles. The "fear factor", which prevented people from demanding the most basic democratic civil rights, was obliterated on line. Facebook transformed into a tool for mobilizing the troops of freedom.

Nowadays, the tree of liberty is once again refreshed by the blood of patriots and tyrants, as Thomas Jefferson would have put it. In Syria and Egypt, people are still dying in the name of freedom. Only this time the hype is gone. No mention of Facebook, no mention of "like" or "share" and definitely no mention of the young Mark Zukerberg.

The question is why? Why has Facebook cut off its ties to the Arab Spring ?

One can only speculate.

Perhaps it's because Mr. Gladwell was partly right. While the social network helped bring about the revolution, it was carried out by the youngsters in the squares. Facebook lit the match, the men and women in Egypt carried the torch.

Maybe it was Zukerberg himself who "killed the story". If the movie "The Social Network" got it right, Zukerberg created Facebook in hope of becoming Ferris Bueller, not Leon Trotsky. His social network was meant to resemble Robert Redford in the "Way We Were"; aesthetic, blond and cool. All of a sudden, Facebook was portrayed as Barbara Striensand's k…k…Katie. This was unacceptable.

Or was it, as usual, all about the money?

Recent reports have speculated that Facebook will be launching an IPO in the next few months. The company is expected to raise some 10 Billion$ as it is now valued by the market at 100 Billion$. When shopping for investors, the world's youngest billionaire wants to sell a product, not a political megaphone. On the floor of the New York stock exchange, it's "Show me the money", not "Lean on me".

It is sad to think that Facebook may have been silenced by the geek who invented it and not by the dictators it helped remove.

Ilan Manor

Tel Aviv

November 24, 2016 23:04

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