Social network-driven protests show power shift

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February 2nd, 2011

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Omaha, NE – Social networks have played an integral role in organizing the powerful protests in Egypt, raising questions about how our inter-connected world has shifted power.

An Egyptian woman chats on her cell phone at one of several massive demonstrations in Cairo (Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

After 30 years under the rule of a dictator in Egypt, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians have mobilized and taken to the streets. Now, the overthrow of their president, Hosni Mubarak, is almost within their reach. That incredible shift of power that has the world tuned in was made possible, in large part, by the power of social networks. Images of the protests are being broadcast across the world –on television, online – and the excerpted stories are being told on Facebook, twitter and mobile news apps. And, the rallies themselves were organized through social media.

“I think what we’re really looking at is a revolution and an evolution of how people communicate,” said Jeff Pulver, co-founder of Vonage – the internet phone system that gave birth to the term Voice Over IP – voice communication over the internet. Pulver was at the University of Nebraska at Omaha recently to talk to students about the social media revolution.

“So many things are affected when there are no gatekeepers,” he said. “Individual people can now have a voice and a back channel back to whoever it is they’re trying to connect to.”

Pulver said we are now living in a time where we’re always connected, and “we’re feeling that connection around the world.” In one way, he said, that is “an amazing experience, particularly if you’ve ever felt something by looking at someone else’s photos. On other hand, you’re connected all the time. And there’s no vacation, no down time, there’s always things going on, and you’re sort of caught in that. And I think that there are going to be huge social affects that change the way we are because of it.”

Pulver said although the changing social web is raising concerns about privacy issues, and is also evolving so quickly, its ramifications are not really clear yet… overall, he said, he’s optimistic about the changes it will produce.

“Humanity actually grows as a result of this connectedness. And I think that for first time in maybe 100 years, the world will get closer together and feel more connected as a result of these platforms.”

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