The Stream – Did social media oust Mubarak? – Ramesh Srinivasan

On The Stream we were joined by Ramesh Srinivasan, an assistant professor of Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles who recently returned from conducting ethnographic work for several weeks in Egypt. He was primarily looking at the role social media has played in Egypt’s demonstrations and he posted this about his conclusions on his blog: “Running across freeways with labor organizers, speaking with taxi drivers and laborers, and visiting rural areas of Egypt convinces me that neither social media technologies nor the youth that use them caused or directly led a revolution where people from every walk of life took to the street.”

While social media had an effect on the demonstrations, Ramesh pointed out that not enough focus has been on the power of organisers who used more traditional techniques. “There are people who are able to rally the masses, get the masses out into the street and they have all sorts of techniques for doing this and yet also be able to interpret the social media so they can impact journalism, they can impact funding, they can impact all other sorts of support. So it’s how you work both.”

The linking of the online and offline worlds worked because ” they were united around this idea that this regime had to go.” And it’s on-going today, he says. “There’s still an alignment which works perfectly with social media and with the logic of the street against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces…but the idea of working out all one’s different positions and developing consensus is a hugely problematic to this day in Egypt.”

During our discussions, members of our online community weighed in via Twitter. @HarisAlisic downplayed the role of social media, saying: “social media is just a tool, it does not cause nor drive revolutions. Suharto of Indonesia was driven out before twitter.” But @GlbalCitizn4Pce wrote about its additive effect: “Social Media gives #Revolution its biggest advantages: Speed & Numbers.” Thumbnail image: Egyptian protesters at a protest in Cairo, July 12, 2011. [EPA/Mohamed Omar]