The student Sophie Scholl was a member of the German resistance during the Nazi dictatorship in Germany. She had been sentenced to death because she and some of her fellow students (all members of the Weiße Rose) printed and distributed flyers calling for a toppling of the Nazi regime. The members of the Weiße Rose had to be very careful and constantly they had to be frightened that their cover would be blown especially when they went out to distribute the flyers.
Today, it’s much easier to organise protests and demonstrations. You don’t have to hide a printing press and go out at night to distribute any flyers in a conspiratorial manner though this does not mean that there is no risk of voicing dissent online (For more information see CyberDissidents.org).
I don’t want to bother you with another story praising Internet or Facebook Revolutions in Egypt or Tunisia. Nevertheless, I am really astonished how people can spread the impression that in Egypt or Tunisia the Internet did not have a stake in toppling the regimes in Tunisia or, even more so, in Egypt. It’s the people that take to the streets, who risk their life and who bring about change. But the Internet definitely helped in quickly organizing widespread mass protests.
This weekend I attended a policy bar camp (PolitCamp) in the former German capital Bonn. One session was titled: “Communication Revolution: Toppling Regimes and Building Governments with Facebook and Twitter”. Well, the title of this session was far too ambitious. Perhaps this is why Deutsche Welle’s head of the editorial department for the Arab region was so skeptical. He argued that Facebook had been used in Egypt since 2004 and that we haven’t seen any substantial changes until this year. So what does this prove? At least, it doesn’t say anything about the Internet’s and Social Media’s role in organizing mass protests once they have been sparked.
Today, the Internet enables us to reduce the costs of organizing. You don’t have to focus on mass protests like in Egypt, Tunisia or elsewhere. Let’s be humble. Take for example the Doodle surveys. It’s so easy to coordinate with friends, colleagues or others to find suitable dates, locations and so on. Just ask them via Doodle what date would be suitable for most of them. You can get a nice overview at short notice.
Again, I don’t want to overestimate the role of the Internet and Social Media in the revolutions in the Arab World but please let’s take into account the very important fact that the costs of organizing protests have massively been reduced thanks to the Internet. Who would deny that?