Where Might Social Media Aid a Revolt Next?

In this photo illustration a smartphone displays a page from Twitter on January 27, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt. Peter Macdiarmid/Getty

The revolution in Egypt was historic not only for toppling President Hosni Mubarak after 30 years, but for revealing the awesome power social media had amassed - enough to be the instrument that inspired hundreds of thousands of people already staunchly opposed to the regime to rise up and act as one.

Now the questions are already being asked - can social media's power be used that way again and if so, where and when?

The protesters In Egypt were mobilized largely via the use of Facebook and Twitter, over 18 long days.

Special Section: Historic Change in Egypt

The revolt there is already being dubbed the Social Media Revolution.

It started Jan. 25, with a call-to-action -- from a Facebook page dedicated to Khalid Said, an Egyptian businessman who was beaten to death by police last summer after threatening to expose police corruption.

Millions of Egyptian youth are big users of Facebook, and saw the page.

Over time, a few prominent faces emerged from the masses. One, Google executive Wael Ghonim, identified by Mubarak's government as the creator of that first Facebook page, was detained.

But the movement had already gained momentum.

Facebook and Twitter, said one protester, "It's a very good way for communication. It has no power or control from anyone."

The government tried to exert control by shutting down Internet and cell phone service, but the protests only grew.

Ghonim was released from jail on Feb. 7, and seen crying in a TV interview, his emotion echoing that of a country.

He tweeted that failure was not an option.

Three days later, that came true.

"This is an Internet revolution," he told CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric. "It was sparked on the Internet, it was continuously depended on the Internet until the last few days" - a social, peaceful revolution whose most powerful weapon was social networking.

Ghonim's first tweet after Mubarak's resignation: "Good morning, Egypt. I truly missed you in the past 30 years!"

On "The Early Show on Saturday Morning," social media expert Rachel Sklar, Editor at Large of news and opinion blog Mediaite.com, put it all in perspective, telling co-anchor Rebecca Jarvis what happened in Egypt certainly could have occurred without social media helping, but there's no doubting their momentous role.

"Revolutions have happened before," she said. "And social media have been around for not very long. So, clearly, it takes more than just a Twitter stream or a Facebook page. The issue here is how quickly information spread, how these digital tools were used to mobilize people. And I think it's pretty striking how quickly this happened and the comparative lack of violence involved.

" .. To get that many people to fill Tahrir Square for 18 straight days, it's not just people sitting poised over their computer and hitting refresh. It's people getting people out. It's used to magnify the message, and there's real discontent. I mean, this revolution in Egypt didn't happen because people decided to mount a Facebook campaign. It happened because there was real poverty in the country. There were real issues of food. And there was an authoritarian regime that had allowed this to happen, and clearly didn't care about its people.

"And that's the kind of momentum -- social media was just one part of it, but an essential part, obviously. And you can't really ignore the fact that, in addition to what happened mobilizing people within Egypt, there's the separate issue of calling attention to it. When Wael Ghonim posts to his Twitter feed, it's not only people following on Twitter, it's the journalists who then broadcast it out to the world. … It's that kind of message magnification that is key and, I think, differentiates this from what's come before."

Where are other hotspots at risk of seeing similar events?

"As a matter of fact, I checked Twitter before I came on (the show) and you know, I saw that somebody posted that there are now protests in Algeria. I mean, I can't verify that. That was (there) right before I came on. But they've been talking about Yemen. Where there are sort of authoritarian regimes, where there's oppression, where there's similar situations, as in Egypt, you can see that, hmm, people are thinking, 'I've seen this happen here. Why couldn't it happen in our country?' Tunisia was the kickoff. Again, you know, every situation requires more than just a plugged-in BlackBerry or iPhone to make things happen. But, there's no question that the message has spread."

What about the accuracy of social media messages?

"When you're dealing with real-time information, it's being put out there and you can't vet it. Obviously, everybody in media knows the more vetting you do and the more preparation you do for a story, the longer time it takes. That is obviously worthwhile in terms of credibility of your source. But, you know, there's always like a healthy grain of salt. It's, 'Where is this information coming from? How credible is the person?' … The twitter feed that I got that information from about Algeria was … a commentator for The New York Times. That's a credible source to me. I'm going to trust him. If it was like some (neighbor), it would be a different story.

"These are all the factors that you bring into it. But the community is very self-regulating."
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