The power of social media to organize, incite and inform was on display during the revolt in Egypt this month. At this week’s AMP Summit Series event in Washington, D.C., political strategist Joe Trippi, State Department policy adviser for innovation Ben Scott and Huffington Post senior political reporter Amanda Terkel engaged in a discussion on what Egypt’s Revolution has taught us about social media’s potential.
Here are some of their thoughts on what makes social media such a powerful, unpredictable force in global politics:
- It replaces the need for a charismatic leader. A cause no longer needs a champion to attract followers. Certainly, there were a number of noble and courageous protesters (and some not so noble, unfortunately), but there was no single face attached to this revolution. Social media has created the possibility of what Ben Scott calls an “aggregate leader,” where the responsibility of advancing a movement can be dispersed.
- It’s impossible to control or shut down. The size and speed of a social network are too difficult for a government — or any kind of bureaucracy — to control, said Joe Trippi. Before social media, the seeds of a revolution could be stamped out, but now the seeds can be suddenly sprout up everywhere. The power of social media made certain that the government’s attempt to shut down Egypt’s wireless access would be seen for what it was — a last-ditch effort that could never be sustained. The costs of taking an entire country offline are too substantial, if only for the opportunity costs that arise when consumers and entrepreneurs can’t access the Internet, Scott said.
- Its effects are “politically agnostic.” There is no overseer that watches over, or brand that is stamped on a grass-roots social network, says Scott. The best anyone can hope for is a small say in what goes on within it. Of course, it is still important for institutions to have their say. One of the first things the Egyptian military did after President Hosni Mubarek resigned was create a Facebook page.
Were you surprised by the influence of social media on the Egyptian revolt? Do you feel the effects of social media on social activism are understated or overstated?
Image credit: oonal, via iStockphoto