By Jodhbir Singh:
On December 17 , a 26-year-old man, Mohammed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in Tunisia, and within about a month, Tunisian president Ben Ali sacked the government and called for early election in next few months. The unrest from Tunisia spread to Tahrir square in Egypt and brought Hosni Mubarak’s government down. Now the same fire has engulfed other parts of the Arab world and north Africa- Libya, Syria, Yemen, and small protests in other parts. There is no doubt that revolutions have happened before in the history, however, this time revolutions are fast and have far greater speed of spreading of information than ever before, thanks to social media activism.
Social networking has gone a step further and given a powerful tool of social media in the hands of activists. Facebook and twitter were the most prominent online platforms used by the activists in recent protests in African countries. In addition, SMS were spreading across the chaos until governments started putting restrictions. It shows that through social media every single voice matters and can be heard quickly.
Al Jazeera English channel, a popular Qatar based TV network, played a crucial role in giving boost to social media activism in Egypt. When the Egyptian government took control of the internet blocking social networking sites, Al Jazeera started recording voices ofÂ protestersÂ and spreading it online in audio formats, which did cost it its Egyptian license though. However, it set a high benchmark for other news organization for bringing the truth to the world. People in other parts of the world were flocking the live stream of Al Jazeera and checking its facebook and twitter updates to find latest information on unrest in Africa.
Similarly, In India, big internet traffic was generated by the ‘fast unto death’ of Anna Hazare, who was protesting the contemporary corruption laws in India and wanted to bring reforms in it. Sitting in Jantar- Mantar in New Delhi, he not only shook the parliament and people across the country, but also stirred an online campaign where Indians were actively supporting his act. Facebook, Orkut, and Twitter were being used to spread the word around and people were being encouraged to send petition to PMO and say out loud against corruption.
If Gandhi had the power of social media he could have paralyzed the British government long ago, however, he set the example for us that it is us who has to take the lead first. Social media enables us to exercise our right of freedom of speech effectively and make other people aware of our act.
In Arab world, there is limited freedom on the use of social media; however, in India it is a boon to the activists who are fighting for a cause to strengthen their voice. They can use existing tools of social media which are much cheaper than TV or print media to spread the word out about their cause.
We have lived in a world which has never been so open before, where every voice could be given a space on the digital world, and which has a very economical way of expression. All of these factors and many other make social media a new form of Gandhian protest. The thing that would be interesting to see in the future would be to see how big part would it play in the real world.