The Social Media of the Egyptian Uprising
On January 25, 2011, then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak shut down Twitter in Egypt. Three days later Twitter’s co-founders, Biz Stone and Alexander Macgillivary published a blog post reiterating the company’s commitment to freedom of expression and even going so far as to say, “Tweets may facilitate positive change in a repressed country” without specifically calling out Egypt.
In the post they emphasized that transparency and respect for free speech were essential for Twitter to work in this way.
This is confusing when you consider that one year later, a follow up post said that the company will now hide tweets from audiences in certain countries while keeping them available in other countries if they are asked to do so. As leaders at Twitter did not respond to inquiry for comment, I can only assume this was a decision made with money in mind. Rather than see themselves shtu down permanently in a place like Egypt, the Twitter execs are adapting, showing the flexibility of their platform.
This seemingly contradicts what Twitter’s core value, “to defend and respect each user’s voice,” as they cave to pressures from repressive regimes they previously claimed to be able to help overthrow. Strangely, this sort of cognitive dissonance mirrors that which al-Arabiya English columnist Guy Golan notes as being a strong part of anti-American sentiments in the Arab world.
Professor Adel Iskandar assured me that Egyptians have other options for social media sites should Twitter continue to serve the interests of dictators rather than users. Perhaps it is worth noting that Twitter claims to not have enforced this new policy just yet. That being said, the very fact that it exists is cause for pause among those tweeters living in countries with a tradition of restricted speech. If the free market works as it should, user demand will overcome Twitter’s oppressive adhesion to dictators’ whims.