Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Facebook's coverage of the Egypt uprising

I have been out of on-the-ground news coverage for the past 11 years and now focusing largely on how to get our clients in the news. But covering news remains in my blood, especially the Middle East. Six years of covering violent outbreaks, assassinations, elections, terrorism of all shapes and sizes, peace agreement made,broken, made and broken again.

There is the political perspective, the economic perspective, the man-on-the-street's perspective, the protester's perspective. Then there are the news gems: the human interest stories that bring us into the lives of one person that enables people oceans away to see the conflict through one lens of hope or courage.

As I reflect on those days, now every time I check in for a news fix, how did we cover the news with what now seems like such limited technology? Faxes and heavy cell phones. Email, but only on computers back at the office. No wireless access from the field, handheld or otherwise. I remind myself: this was barely over a decade ago.

Today, Twitter and Facebook are not only the strongest mobilizing forces for protesters, they are the fastest news service. (Not sure how I feel about this, but that's another blog entry.)

Today was one more morning that I logged on to Facebook to review random people's groups for my news well before reaching for The Globe and Mail.

I use Facebook Search, type in "Egypt protests" and up comes all the information I need. Admittedly, the best sites in terms of popularity are in Arabic and I am sure these sites are significantly more interesting than the ones in English that I am able to read. The posted photos however tell stories in themselves and are universally understood.

When my kids read about these events in their high school history classes what will they learn? This was the first time the Internet was actually shut down, not just censored. Despite this, the power of social media was used as a mobilizing force for the first time in this way. The networks of social media erased country borders and civil unrest and the courage to speak out spread from country to country in one of the hottest political regions in the world.

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