The Internet has begun turning the tides of sociopolitical activism in some of the most unlikely of places. This is where revolutions and the ubiquity of the Internet intertwine.
The spark in Egypt
In 2011 Egypt was in the throes of a full blown revolution. An estimated 15 million people of varying religious creeds and cultural backgrounds amassed in Cairo, Egypt, petitioning for the, soon-to-be actualized, resignation of tyrant Hosni Mubarak. By February, following months of bloodshed and turmoil, Mubarak had stepped down, and the revolution was hailed as a major victory for grassroots revolutionaries.
But what was the genesis of this monumental movement towards Egyptian democracy? For Egypt’s coup d’état, all it took was a simple Facebook page.
A New York Times piece chronicling the spawn of Egypt’s now famous revolution revealed that in 2010, the movement was inauspiciously sparked from a facebook page created by 29-year-old Google marketing executive, Wael Ghonim.
The page was titled “We Are All Khaled Said,” in reference to a 28-year-old Egyptian man who had been brutally murdered by Egyptian police–a common occurrence under Mubarak’s rule. Three months later the page had over 250,000 followers.
From the beginning of his involvement, Ghonim with the aid of his Facebook page, metamorphosed from haplessly oppressed, to a major actor in a massive sociopolitical movement.
Coinciding with Egypt’s revolution, Tunisia followed suit, and launched a web-fueled campaign similar to that which aided in the coup of Mubarak.
As was the case in Egypt, Tunisian activists used social media as a tool to proliferate images and accounts of widespread police abuse inflicted on protesters. As the images disseminated to wealthier parts of the country, the movement exploded.
Harkening back to the monks of Saigon, the self-immolation of disaffected Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, was also a galvanizing event in Tunisia’s platform for social media activism. Police’s violent reaction was captured on video following protests in Bouazizi’s hometown, and were consequently broadcast on Twitter and YouTube.
As the protests escalated, police and Tunisian president Ben Ali fled the country, leaving Tunisian streets in a state of relative chaos. Using social media, citizens organized food drives, targeted looters, formed street cleaning teams, and disseminated information.
If there’s one thing Egypt and Tunisia have showed us, it’s that social media activism is, and always will be, a tool, rather than a substitution for feet on the ground–but an indispensable one at that.
Anonymous and Ferguson
It would be nearly impossible to discuss matters of Internet revolutions without a mention of Anonymous–in recent years the two have become nearly inextricable.
For those that don’t already know, Anonymous is a network of unnamed internet hackers who through online channels, assist in levying what they deem social or political justice.
Anonymous has been involved in various revolutions and controversies throughout recent years, from both Egypt and Tunisia, where they shut down government websites responsible for interrupting Egyptian Internet, to the Steubenville rape case where one Anonymous hacker revealed the names of those involved.
In recent news, Anonymous has been directly involved in the fallout proceeding Police’s fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri–and they’re determined to make a difference.
So far Anonymous has taken similar measures from previous operations in Tunisia and Egypt in that they shut down Ferguson’s city hall website and phone lines. Through coercive and ethically questionable methods, Anonymous also falsely fingered two other police officers in an attempt to uncover the identity of Brown’s shooter, who we now know is Officer Darren Wilson.
Anonymous has been on the forefront of vigilante Internet activism, and will seemingly only increase its involvement in the foreseeable future.