Can Facebook topple Egyptian authoritarianism?

Torturing Ahmen Maher

Newest Egyptian Way to Learn Your Facebook Password: Torturing Ahmed Maher (by blogger Wael Abbas)

[see also See “Twitter, Facebook and YouTube’s Role in Middle East Uprisings” (Social Capital Blog, 1/26/11, updated 2/3/11)]

David Wolman has an interesting article in the current WIRED magazine chronicling the rise of Ahmed Maher and other activists in Cairo trying to use Facebook to organize student protest.  It describes all the cat-and-mouse intrigue and the government’s effort to arrest the ringleaders, torture them into submission or steal their passwords.

At one level it is a paean to technology: how the nimble, viral Facebook can out-organize the old brick-and-mortar state security force of the repressive Mubarak regime.  At another level, it raises all the risks of organizing over the Internet:  while one can build “movements” with amazing viral rapidity, will these “activists” (or slacktivists) with fewer real social ties actually come to the protests; or how without all the verbal cues and formal vetting through real networks, it is much easier for government agents to “infiltrate” the Facebook space and monitor what is going on.

The article ends on a possibly optimistic note: Ahmed Maher is not tortured in his most recent arrest by the Egyptian police, perhaps because they have no explicit orders of what to do with him, or perhaps he has reached the level of fame where harming him, fans the flames of the opposition.

[See my related post on the rise of trivial Twitter for social mobilization in developing countries.]

Anyway, “Cairo Activists Use Facebook to Rattle Regime” (WIRED, 10/20/08) is an interesting read on both the promise and peril of e-activism.

See updated post on TechPresident “Egyptian Activists Challenge Facebook-Enabled Diplomacy 2.0” (12/5/08)


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