The people are on the front line

2011-02-04 15:14

In light of the political and social developments taking place in Sudan, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Egypt and a number of other African countries, the history books our children will look back on will seem very different from what we are reading.

There has been much talk about how Tunisia and Egypt have experienced Twitter revolutions.

The platform has been used to bypass much of the mainstream and controlled media, and has now become a tool for real-time mobilisation.

The power of the smartphone lies in the applications available and the ability to bypass controlled channels to communicate.

While watching the Egyptian protests unfold on Twitter, I was struck by how many people were inclined to see this as a triumph for social media – and for Twitter in particular. But we were all getting the news from Al Jazeera, a traditional broadcast platform.

Twitter, in a way, merely reiterated or supplemented what Al Jazeera had reported – until the news network’s offices were shut down. It did, however, continue to find ways to communicate with those of us on the outside
looking in.

I have a couple of Egyptian friends, and one of the most frustrating and frightening things for me was how easily it seemed for all forms of communication, including the internet and social media, to be shut down in Egypt.

All of a sudden, people I could communicate with at a drop of the hat were no longer accessible.

And yet, the protests continued – without Twitter or Facebook.

I am not sure what it is that drives this desire for a Twitter or Facebook “revolution”.

What I do know, however, is that when there are protests, clashes, heavy-handedness and violence, it is not profile pages that are on the line but people’s lives.

The internet and social media tend to serve as platforms for endless speculation by citizen journalists, ordinary people on the street, and everyone in-between.

 I always enjoyed history in high school and continue to enjoy reading about the path our species has taken.

I also recognise that history is often written from the victors’ perspective. Monuments and street names reflect this.

But here’s the question: With the chaos and speculation, how do we document what really is happening in Egypt, Tunisia and countless other places?

Who will find the singular thread and cut through the conjecture and bias to determine what is as close to the truth as possible?

Social media is a great tool, but the value and change is not brought about by these digital platforms; it’s brought about by the people.

» Baffoe is the editor of Destiny Man

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