GroundFloor Media & CenterTable Blog

Consider the facts: More than 500 million active users, or one in 13 people on earth, are Facebook users. About 70 percent of Facebook users live outside the United States.

I don’t know about you, but I’m riveted by the continued news coverage of what’s taking place in the Middle East and I do wonder what role social networks like Facebook will continue to play as we watch unrest continue to spread.

I recently watched a webinar for TED, where Chinese artist Ai Weiwei secretly participated and submitted a short video, in spite of the enormous risks of defying Chinese laws (he had been jailed and tortured for internet communication in the past). He’s an artist, but also uses the internet to reach youth throughout his country to expose government corruption and abuses. His story is similar to what recently occurred in Egypt.

I was particularly taken with a recent news story on 60 Minutes regarding Egypt’s 18-day revolution. The segment featured a lengthy interview with Google’s regional marketing manager for the Middle East, Wael Ghonim, who was jailed for internet organizing. Ghonim explained how in a country of 85 million people, where one-third are under the age of 30, the revolution was “fought through Twitter and texts, not tanks and guns.”

Ghonim turned out to be the anonymous Facebook page administrator called ElShaheed, meaning martyr. He played an important role in communicating information to Egyptian youth and organizing protests online. He soon had more than a half a million Facebook followers.

Ghonim proposes that the biggest strategic mistake that the Egyptian Government made was initially blocking Facebook, which led people out onto the streets, eventually bringing about the successful uprising that overturned the government.

What I find so compelling is that while many of us (me included) use Facebook as a way to share information, reconnect with people and find out who is going to be on Ellen, others in the world are using Facebook as a lifeline for communicating, organizing and expressing freedom from tyranny. And did you read about the Egyptian man who named his baby “Facebook”? It puts things into perspective about the unlimited power of social networks.

~ Barb Jones

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