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#3: It's About Dignity and Poverty, Not About Facebook

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Our Top Ten Blog Posts by Readership in 2011

Originally published on February 8, 2011

Frank Rich, op-ed columnist at the New York Times, made a very important point this week: Revolutions are not about Facebook and Twitter. Revolutions are about human dignity and hunger. It seems that a few journalists are trying to push the (mainstream) media's fascination with the role of (social) media in Egypt, Tunisia, and Iran toward a more realistic point of view. After a prime-time CNN talking head stated that social media are the most fascinating thing about the events in Egypt (!), some senior journalists seem to have had it with the ICT hype. Rich tries to pull attention to why people rise up against their government: "starting with the issues of human dignity and crushing poverty."

The commentary also points out some realities about ICT. Protests against the presidential election in Iran were sometimes branded the "Twitter Revolution" - all of 0.027% of the population in Iran has a Twitter account. A fifth of the Egyptians is online. Mass media, in particular television, may have a much stronger influence on people and their political behavior. In CommGAP's book "Public Sentinel," Lawrence Pintak argues that Arab journalists, in particular those working for Al Jazeera, have become a catalyst for change in the region by acting as a watchdog to governments and by driving a pro-reform agenda. This is not an argument against the role of ICT. It's an argument for looking at the entire media system of a country: an independent media system as a whole can strengthen civil society and lend legitimacy to governments.

One of the biggest demonstration in Egypt yet occurred on a day the Internet had been shut down by the government, Frank Rich quotes CNN anchor Jim Clancy. MSNBC reporter Richard Engel put it this way: "This didn’t have anything to do with Twitter and Facebook. This had to do with people’s dignity, people’s pride. People are not able to feed their families."

Picture: Flickr user Nasser Nouri


Submitted by Joanna Watkins on
This blog post reminds me of an article which made a similar point: "Why the revolution will not be tweeted" by Malcolm Gladwell October 4, 2010, in the New Yorker:

Submitted by rashkin1376 on
I disagree with Anne as i dont understand why she tries to avoid the importane of social media. Hunger, poverty is always there but couldn't expressed like that in egypt or tunisia, as mainstream media was always partial and not independent. So people had no platform. but now social media brought a radical structural change in media world. now it is giving the voice of those people who had no access to the media and communication and always guided by the crony politician. So we must not deny this fact.

Submitted by Anonymous on
I have to agree with Rashkin1376 comment response to Miss Arnold's blog. Social media did play a role very important role in Egypt, Iran, Tunisia, and many more countries to come because it gives citizens the means to communicate with one another so they can act. Facebook and Twitter are not the reasons why people are seeking change, it is just a tool to help change take place. Yes, the uprising in Egypt is about dignity and poverty but what tool of communication will you use to get out your frustration? There was a point that 0.027% percent of the people in Iran have access to a Twitter account. But what percent of the population have a cellphone and what percent of those people access the web from their cellphone? Also, do not count the number of people who have access but rather, the number of people who are connected to people with access. Regards

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