Guest post by Graham Hough-Cornwell
This post is not a content analysis of the recent tweets about Egypt. Their volume is staggering and would demand a more rigorous analysis, both qualitative and quantitative, than is possible at this time. Just click on the hash tag “#Egypt,” wait a minute to refresh, and you will have hundreds of new tweets in dozens of different languages.
There are calls to action, directions for protesters, jokes, cracks about Anderson Cooper, links to video and photo galleries, and the latest in negotiations between the Mubarak regime and the White House. One thing worth noting though: for all that Twitter activity, the pro-Mubarak crowd has been notably quiet, even silent at times.
Setting aside the trends and messages of the thousands (millions?) of tweets out there, it is fascinating to look at the flexibility and agility of the protest itself. Despite government crackdowns and blockages of webpages – as early as the first day of protesting – and cell phone networks, the flow of news and information never ceased.
Even after the government effectively shut off the entire internet, tweets continued to pour in, live from Tahrir Square and other locales across Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez.
Four of five cell phone providers in Egypt were shut down within three days of the first major protest on January 25. Internet then followed, causing a 90 percent drop in data traffic to and from Egypt. The only company to remain in operation was Noor, also incidentally the provider for the Egyptian Stock Exchange.
We are still witnessing the reaction to and consequences of the service stoppages. In the New York Times, Jim Cowie of Renesys, a New Hampshire company that monitors global internet traffic, commented, “In a fundamental sense, it’s as if you rewrote the map and they are no longer a country.”
Such drastic overstatements misunderstand the impact of the internet blockage and its relation to the protests. What map was being “rewritten,” exactly? Protests hardly seemed to slow despite the lack of mobile phone and internet access, and, while Egyptians may not have been able to live-blog from the 6th of October Bridge on their smart phones, the world outside Egypt did not want for eyewitness, up-to-the-minute reports. If there was indeed a new map, Egypt and Tahrir Square were at the very heart of it.
Tweeters in turn reacted strongly to assertions like Cowie’s, rejecting the power of Twitter and Facebok to fuel the revolution.
@SultanAlQassemi There was no twitter, mobile phones, Satellite TV, internet, facebook, sms or youtube when Romanians overthrew Ceausescu in 1989. #Jan25
@altivexfoundry #Egypt #Tunisia “It was not a twitter revolution … It was a revolution … Covered by twitter” #jnb5feb
@asteris Won’t be RTing anything w. words Twitter (or Facebook) & revolution adjacent to each other; disrespectful towards the brave ppl of #Egypt