New research by Kara Alaimo, Ph.D., assistant professor of public relations at the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication and an expert on global communication, examines how social media boosted political activism during the 2011 Egyptian revolution.
In the case study, Dr. Alaimo explores how Wael Ghonim, the owner of the Facebook Arabic page “We Are All Khaled Said,” used his platform over time to educate his online followers about abuses in the Egyptian government and mobilized them to revolt in an 18-day protest that resulted in the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
She notes however, that social media alone does not always bring down regimes, citing Iran and Syria as examples where social media campaigns have not yet worked to foster change.
“My research finds that the use of social media to mobilize Egyptians in the streets was less spontaneous than it may have appeared,” Alaimo said. “Wael Ghonim invested a lot of time in educating his followers on his Facebook page and gradually training them to become more comfortable with political activism, so that when a political opportunity opened up, people were more prepared to move into the streets. The need to lay the groundwork is such an important lesson for other communicators working to promote social change, and it should give us all hope. Even if our efforts do not yield immediate results, we shouldn’t underestimate the value of seeding new ideas.”
Social media can also be used effectively by terrorists as well – ISIS, she notes, tweets and posts as many as 90,000 times a day. “Countering terrorist messaging online is now one of the key challenges for government communicators, but I think everyone has more questions than answers about how to do it,” she said.
“How the Facebook Arabic Page ‘We Are All Khaled Said’ Helped Promote the Egyptian Revolution” is published in the July-December 2015 issue of Social Media + Society.