What happened in Egypt and is continuing to spread across the Middle East is nothing short of mind blowing. What I saw on television during the nightly network news broadcasts was eerily reminiscent to me of the leadup to the war in Iraq. A network anchor on some hotel room broadcasting with an empty bridge across a major river in the background. I was just waiting for the explosion.And then it happened. It wasn’t a laser-guided bomb, but an explosion of tweets and blog posts from the region. I heard a lot of comments about how people didn’t have clean drinking water or toilets, but had a cell phone that they can take pictures and record video with to get their message heard by the world.
Then, the government turned off the Internet. But somehow those messages were still getting out. The Tumblr platform, which has been adopted by many news outlets, had a special page built just for the Egypt tag, curated by editors and users. At one point people were posting IP addresses and dial up numbers hosted abroad for users to log on so they could get their stories out.
When Hosni Mubarak’s supporters charged at the crowd and started targeting journalists, a young freelance photographer named Andrew Burton became an overnight sensation with his post ‘Account of an Attack‘ went viral and was retweeted. He ended up telling his story on multiple news shows .
What we really learned from the 18 days in Egypt was the impact social media can have. Average citizens told stories of abuses, journalists got in touch with sources and Kenneth Cole probably lost a lot of sales in less than 140 characters.
When people have access to information and can get that information out, there’s really nothing that can’t be done.