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Social networks give the oppressed a voice

January 28, 2011 - Art Smith
There was a time not so long ago if the people of an oppressed county somewhere wanted to invoke a change, they would storm the nearest radio station and take control of the broadcast.

Now all they have to do is pick up their smart phone and log into Facebook and Twitter. Social media has become the go-to media to use when you are attempting to overthrow a country.

This has been become very apparent this week in Egypt. Organized via posts on Facebook and Twitter, thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Cairo and other cities calling for a change in government. The mechanics of spreading information via social networking is remarkably simple. An organizer posts a few sentences alerting people where a protest is planned. Instantly thousands of people can read the message on computers, cell phones and a variety of other devices.

This type of organizing has been going on for years. Flash mobs are popular in the United States. Most flash mobs are done for fun, thousands of people showing up in a shopping mall and dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” for instance.

In Egypt, in Iran and in other countries, the participants are serious. Most countries do not have a free press. Those who control the government also control the voice of the media. To get an opposing voice heard, you have go outside the “traditional” media outlet.

The heavy use of social media in these countries likely has left leaders stunned.

Leaders in Egypt have responded by shutting down the Internet and cell phone networks.

Shutting down the Internet in a country to silence a few sites can prove problematic. Sure Twitter will quit working, but so will credit cards and ATMs. A person always could simply dial up a connection in another country. News reports Friday indicated at least one Internet service provider was still working.

Elsewhere in the world governments pay very close attention to what people can and cannot see on the Internet. China for instance, blocks its citizens from being able to view scores of sites.

One mouse click at a time, social networking and the Internet in general is giving a voice to millions who never had it.


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