We Were Already Behaving Strangely
The seeds for the social media-driven Arab Spring were sown more than five years ago, says Alexander McNabb, director, Spot On PR.
“A Facebook group on the conflict between the army and Fatah Al Islam in Lebanon grew a membership of 8,000 in a single week: an average of two new members every minute. The movement of people, of opinions and debate in the new social networks can take place with incredible rapidity. There is a new egalitarianism in the air and it’s a heady scent for many.”
“A flash survey of 100 Middle East based Facebook users tells us that 93 per cent of them are using broadband connections. And 89 per cent of them have laptop computers. 73 per cent of those Facebook users are between 25 and 35 years of age. The survey took less than 1 hour to conduct.”
That was all written early in 2007. I recently had reason to revisit a white paper I’d written together with Spot On bright spark Mai Abaza to support my presentation at the Arab Advisors Convergence Conference in Amman.
The above text is part of the argument we were making that regional telcos needed to bring down the price of broadband and stop considering it a service for shifting big files and start looking at it as a way for many people to shift many files quickly.
I recall asking the conference how many had heard of the phrase Web 2.0 or social media and getting a show of eleven hands from an audience of hundreds of operators. That’s telcos for you.
Re-reading this reminded me there’s a line that connects Nahr El Bared with Occupy Wall Street – those Facebook groups that sprang up contained debate and discourse we had never before seen in the region – passionate and sometimes violently abusive, the adoption rate of these groups and the way they brought people together were stunning to watch. Of course, Mai and I were so busy examining the implications for the broadband market we missed the wider implications that here was a new platform for discourse and organisation that would grow to have the ability to bring down governments.
Those groups showed people in the Middle East, for the first time, that they could not only talk to each other, but broadcast opinion to tens of thousands. It took four years’ growth in adoption, but the seeds sown as the Lebanese army blasted the Nahr El Bared camp using helicopters carrying bombs in home-made cradles would lead to something a great deal bigger when that discourse swept the streets of Tunisia and then Egypt, bringing the heady scent of new freedoms not only to the Middle East, but to Middle America.