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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Engrossing: Facebook: Changing the face of revolution

Published: April 29, 2011
Section: Opinions

My first semester at Brandeis and my first semester writing for The Hoot, I wrote a whole bunch of articles about Facebook and a whole bunch of articles about activism.

Since the beginning of this semester, I have stepped away from these topics and written about other pressing issues such as cigarette smoking, Four Loko and sleep. As my first year at Brandeis comes to an end, however, I thought that it would be appropriate to make a return to the topics that got me started.

During April break, I went out for Chinese food with my father, sister and paternal grandparents as a pre-Pesach celebration. Over lo-mein, my grandmother brought up—one of her favorite topics—her own lack of understanding about Facebook. She questioned my sister and me intensely about the social media outlet; but no matter what my sister and I said to sway her, she couldn’t wrap her head around the concept that it was good for more than drug deals and the dissemination of nude pictures. I wish that I had been with her a few days later when I stumbled upon something that put the power of Facebook into a completely new perspective for me.

In April, Mark Zuckerberg and President Obama teamed up to produce a White House town hall meeting conducted completely via Facebook—a wholly underpublicized event, in my opinion, considering the fact that the White House is kind of a big deal.

In this town hall, the president discussed issues such as the economy but before the official town hall started, Obama had a few enthusiastic words to share about the social media site: “What makes me incredibly optimistic—and that’s why being here at Facebook is so exciting for me—is that at every juncture in our history, whenever we face challenges like this, whether it’s been the shift from a agricultural age to an industrial age, or whether it was facing the challenges of the Cold War, or trying to figure out how we make this country more fair and more inclusive, at every juncture we’ve always been able to adapt. We’ve been able to change and we’ve been able to get ahead of the curve. And that’s true today as well and you guys are at the cutting edge of what’s happening.” Pretty high praise from the leader of the free world, and not completely without justification.

Since its inception, Facebook has become the world’s largest social media outlet. According to figures that they’ve released, the website has more than 500 million accounts—with numbers climbing quickly towards 600 million. Fifty percent of these members are between the ages of 18 and 35. Half of these members log into Facebook at least once a day and the average user has 130 friends. In addition to users, there are more than 900 million objects—including pages, groups, events and community pages—that its users are able to interact with. These interactions allow users to connect to others with similar interests and ideologies.

Though this may seem insignificant, it is important not to underestimate the power of this many people having access to so many resources. Anyone who doubts the mettle of this statement needs only to look to the Middle East to see its truth.

Shortly after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down from power, Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim, was interviewed by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

Ghonim, an activist and marketing manager for Google, was a key player in Egypt’s revolution, as he organized the Jan. 25 protest by reaching out to Egyptian youths on Facebook.

Though he has been given much credit for his work on behalf of the revolution—during which he was arrested and imprisoned for 12 days—he insists that “he is not the hero.” In his CNN interview, Ghonim credited Facebook with the success of the Egyptian people’s uprising.

He explained: “I want to meet Mark Zuckerberg one day and thank him […] I’m talking on behalf of Egypt. […] This revolution started online. This revolution started on Facebook. This revolution started […] in June 2010 when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians started collaborating content. We would post a video on Facebook that would be shared by 60,000 people on their walls within a few hours. I’ve always said that if you want to liberate a society just give them the Internet.”

As we, on college campuses all across the nation, sit on Facebook, searching for information about our hallmate’s new boyfriend or our third grade girlfriend’s new haircut, it is easy to forget the incredible power that Facebook and other forms of social media possess. It is important to remember the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead, when she instructed never to disregard the power of “a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens” to change the world, because in Egypt and throughout the Middle East, that is exactly what they did.