The Social Media of the Egyptian Uprising
Protest leaders and those analyzing the fray from afar have credited Facebook with helping to organize and inspire those involved with the Egyptian uprising. Data from this source could be very instructive in studying the ways in which we understand social movement theory. Web expert Alexis Madrigal wrote recently on technology’s role in the Occupy movement; he makes the connection between that movement and Egypt. He wrote, “a set of mobile technologies that didn’t exist ten years ago offered protesters new human capabilities that they used to record and disseminate information, as well as organize — or maybe more properly, design — the protests. These new behaviors, like blanket cell-phone photo coverage paired with social media amplification, were unprecedented in the United States, though activists put them to use in the Arab Spring protests.” The cell-phone photo coverage to which he refers can be seen through the shaky YouTube videos and grainy photos shared on Facebook groups and individual users’ walls.
It is imperative to have this data, and that is why I originally intended to collect it here. Unfortunately, these new media have certain limitations. Facebook and Twitter are both aimed at being timely; they show what is happening in the present very well, but it is nearly impossible to get archives, unless they were saved close to the time of their posting. In cases where there are not as many posts – such as on YouTube – it is easier. That is how I managed to collect the samples I have below. But in the case of groups that have sustained popularity, as I said, it would take hours and hours of scrolling just to get one sample of data. I have confidence that there will be a way to access these things more easily soon – and some groups are already on the brink. At one point, the website Topsy was allowing users to search tweets in a more manageable manner, but the site went under construction during the building of this site and has not worked properly since. There is also at least one Facebook group that tried to collect this data during the uprising. Anyone with information about more such groups or sites should visit the “How to Contribute” page.
One last barrier that stands in the way of collecting Facebook data is the number of groups that have sprung up since the uprising with the same names as other groups but that did not exist prior to May or June of this year. There are several of them, and there is no easy way to determine when a group originated off the bat. That means a lot of time wasted on hunting through wall posts and profile pictures, only to discover that the group in question has no data from that time period.
Here is a list of some that did have samples from that time:
This screenshot from a Facebook group in support of the January 25 movement shows that protesters came together in both Arabic and English. It also shows, however, that there was resentment towards the West. Sarah Ibrahim’s comment is an example of language used to sustain the movement through encouragement and cultivating a sense of community. Even though she was far away, she established a connection with Egypt through Facebook.