Also published on The Huffington Post
For more on social media and the Arab Spring, see the book “Distant Witness,” by Andy Carvin.
Did Twitter and Facebook “cause” the Tunisian Revolution and the protests in Egypt? Not according to Malcolm Gladwell, since he and others have questioned the role of social media in social change in North Africa. But he’s not there, and neither are most other Western observers weighing in on the subject, giving their debate a whiff of the abstract and the academic.
Fortunately, the people who change the world these days get to tell their own stories, and on January 26th I was lucky enough to hear one of them. Despite a snow storm that shut down the District of Columbia, a few dozen of us made it to a presentation and discussion at NPR’s headquarters led by Rim Nour, a young Tunisian protester. Organized by social media guru Andy Carvin, Social Media & Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution: A Firsthand View provided fantastic details on how Tunisians used technology to accelerate their revolution, and in the process gave us a preview of how other people around the world might do the same.
Nour’s background in technology and public policy not only makes her uniquely qualified to speak on these questions, but she was also on the street as the revolt happened, risking the consequences of standing up for her beliefs and the rights of her people. In her eyes, social media tools didn’t CAUSE the revolution — it was a Tunisian Revolution, not a Twitter/Facebook/Wikileaks revolution — but they definitely seem to have speeded it up. Plus, they let the rest of the world watch and offer such support as we could. And as the country risked descending into chaos, digital tools also helped people organize themselves to protect their communities and the political gains they had won.