March 27th, 2011
12:15 PM ET

Fareed's Take: the role of social media in revolutions

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

It's important to remember how recent the entire information revolution is.

Fifteen years ago in Tunisia or Egypt all you could read, hear and see was government propaganda. State television - the main source of information for the vast majority - was a daily catalogue of the great deeds of Hosni Mubarak or President Ben Ali or whomever.

The first great revolution was the satellite TV revolution, which brought images and information and real reporting to the Arab people for the first time.

It was not just CNN. It became Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and all the other channels that broke the state's monopoly of information and let Arabs see the world around them.

The regime might not have wanted people to know of the 2005 protests for democracy in Egypt, for example, but people quickly learned of it anyway. Then came the internet revolution, which provided even more information and gave people the opportunity to post information and opinions anonymously.

There was a superb and hilarious website, for example, that would make daily fun of the turgid propaganda put out by Egypt's state newspaper, Al-Ahram.

Finally came the social networking revolution, which allowed people to share information, opinions and organizing ideas. It helped them rally.  They could do this not just using a computer, which is still a luxury product for the wealthy in the Arab world, but with a cell phone, which is a basic necessity that everyone owns.

So the combination of these three revolutions was to move information from what I call a "one-to-many" system to a "many-to-many" system.

It used to be that revolutions began by seizing the radio station or the TV station because that allowed the new regime to broadcast its message to the masses - control information from one to many.

But  today's technology is many to many, epitomized by the internet where everyone is connected but no one is in control. This system helps the individual; it breaks the regime's monopoly on information; it allows people to organize; and it allows people to refute the lies put out by a regime.

It's not a silver bullet, but clearly today's information technology has the effect of disintermediating - it breaks down hierarchies and monopolies.

That's got to be good for the individual, and it must be bad for dictatorships.

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Topics: Fareed's Take • GPS Show • Innovation • Technology

soundoff (55 Responses)
  1. Fadl

    Check out this event help at the National Press Club yesterday about Social Media in the Arab world: http://www.ameinfo.com/260238.html

    March 30, 2011 at 9:53 am | Reply
  2. Alan

    The many to many relationship brings to mind a database. Social media is just one facet of a broader front. Read - The Emergence of Noopolitik. Go to - http://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR1033.html - scroll down the page and read it in pdf format. It is not necessary to buy it to read it. At minimum, read chapter three.

    March 31, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Reply
  3. Adler315

    I don't do this, as a rule, but I feel that this is particularly germane to this discussion:

    From Hosea 8:7: 'For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind – "They shall reap," not merely as "they have sown," but with an awful increase. They sowed folly and vanity, and shall reap, not merely emptiness and disappointment, but sudden, irresistible destruction. "They sowed the wind," and, as one seed bringeth forth many, so the wind, "penn'd up," as it were, in this destructive tillage, should "burst forth again, reinforced in strength, in mightier store and with great violence." Thus, they "reaped the whirlwind," yea, (as the word means) "a mighty whirlwind." But the whirlwind which they reap doth not belong to "them"; rather they belong to it, blown away by it, like chaff, the sport and mockery of its restless violence.'

    These words from the Holy Bible apply with the same force to Pastor Terry Jones and the congregation of The Dove World Outreach Center in Florida, to Fred Phelps and the congregation of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, to the Muslim participants in those rabid mobs who have slaughtered innocents in Afghanistan, to every Muslim, to every Jew, to every Christian, yea, to every godforsaken living human being, believer and nonbeliever alike. Most of the people writing in simply refuse to accept or acknowledge – or, by virtue of their willful ignorance, cannot even see – the shared human folly, complicity, and madness in this series of tragic events.

    Were I so inclined, I could just as easily cherry-pick the Bible or the Koran to find some sort of justification for any horrific act of my own choosing. Both are sources of holy scripture that are chock full of worshipful paeans to a God of wrath, a God of vengeance, a God of retribution, a God of destruction. I happen to choose a God of peace and a God of forgiveness – and I have some startling news for a great many people out there: so do hundreds of millions of Muslims.

    Pastor Jones was cautioned time and time again that his deliberate public provocation would result in violence and death – including the grievous injury and deaths of American military personnel who are now forced to bear the brunt of his incredible folly. His public declaration in response was "[...], so be it." If Jones had led a group of children to a hornets' nest at a picnic ground and had, despite repeated pleas and warnings from deeply concerned parents, struck that hornets' nest with a tree branch – an act which resulted in the deaths of two of the toddlers – he would richly deserve every bit of condemnation and every lawsuit that the parents of those children could muster. And that's putting it mildly.

    Everyone responsible for instigating violence in this tragedy should be held accountable. Period.

    April 4, 2011 at 5:31 pm | Reply
  4. Elodia Laa

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    May 5, 2011 at 10:36 pm | Reply
  5. selfrocks

    Upperhand, You are a wise individual. Would you please consider running for president?

    March 27, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Reply
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