If the digital punters out there are to be believed, it is the power of some corporates in California that is setting the Arab world free. It is the venture capitalists, the CEOs, the boardroom visionaries of Palo Alto that are to be thanked for the groundswell we are seeing in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Jordan. According to the social-media posse, we must bow our heads and give praise to Mr Mark Zuckerberg and Mr Jack Dorsey for sponsoring the Middle-East revolution.
Yup, Twitter and Facebook. They have both been pronounced as the cornerstones that one builds a revolution on. Got a regime you need to overthrow? Hashtag it, bag it, and throw it on the scrapheap, job done.
Well, not really. The last time I checked sticks and stones, bricks and clubs, and bucket loads of blood were needed to overthrow tyrants.
Just to make sure of this fact I taped the news last night and watched it a few times over. I am pretty sure when the protestors were pushing the police off the bridge in Cairo I didn’t see any tweeting en masse. I looked but I couldn’t find a BlackBerry army FB’ing their faces off. What I did see was a bunch of brave people taking on teargas, rubber bullets and baton charges. There was one moment where I did see someone throw what looked like a phone at a police car, but it turned out to be a brick, and not a Nokia 2110.
Look, Twitter and Facebook are nice. I like what they add to life. The LULZing, the vids of baby monkeys going backwards on pigs, the photos of yesterday’s jol, and the news links. I understand their role in organising things, and as platforms to discuss ideas or the latest fashion. But there is a massive difference between tweeting and shooting. Particularly when someone else is doing the shooting at you. When we brand the people’s movement in Egypt or Tunisia as a social-media revolution we belittle the risks these people have taken. We take away from the fact that they stood in the way of real guns and real tanks.
If I was to apply it in local terms, it is like branding the struggle years as the Mondi struggle. A revolution fuelled on paper flyers, brought to you by the paper people. Ridiculous, yes. But that is what we want to do now.
So why are we doing this? Why are we so keen to have the Middle-East Crisis packaged as the Coup d’etwitter? Why are we so keen to hand over credit for the protests to a bunch of business guys in Palo Alto? Because we want to feel part of the revolution. We want to believe that somehow that link we posted, that twibbon we put at the bottom of our picture, that #opegypt tag we put at the end of tweet actually did something. We like the idea that we’re involved, that we’re in on the action, and we didn’t even need to leave the couch, desk, bed, toilet (or wherever you prefer to tweet from).