Much has been written about the potential of new ICTs, and particularly mobile technologies and social networking software, to transform political and social systems. A fundamental question that underlies all work in ICT4D is whether new ICTs can indeed be used by the poor to overthrow oppressive regimes, or whether, like other technologies before them, ICTs are used primarily by the rich and powerful to maintain their positions of power. Until very recently, it seemed that despite the potential of ICTs to undermine dominant political structures, most attempts to do so have been ruthlessly crushed. The ruling regime in Iran was thus able to suppress the ‘Twitter Revolution’ of 2009-10, and the Burmese government likewise maintained its grip on power despite extensive use of mobile ‘phones and the Internet during protests in 2007.
Recent events in North Africa, with the overthrow of President Ben Ali in Tunisia and the continuing protests against President Mubarak in Egypt, have widely been attributed in considerable part to the agency of mobile ‘phones and the use of social networking environments over the Internet. Whilst it is too early fully to judge their importance in fueling such political protests, the following reports provide evidence in support of such claims:
- GigaOM – was what happened in Tunisia a Twitter Revolution?
- Nick O’Neill – how Facebook kept the Tunisian revolution alive
- John Naughton in the Observer – Yet another Facebook Revolution: why are we so surprised?
- Movements.org – Technology and revolutions: did Tunisia end the debate?
- National Post (Canada) – Q & A What role did social media play in Tunisia’s revolution?
- H. Nanjala Nyabola – Twittering on the edge (AllAfrica.com)
- Timothy Garton Ash in the Guardian – Tunisia’s revolution isn’t a product of Twitter or Wikileaks. But they do help.
- Global Voices – Tunisia Uprising
- Mark Almond – #Rev@lution – in The Sun
- BBC News – Egypt unrest
- Osama Diab writing in October 2010 in the Guardian – ‘Egyptian government fears a Facebook revolution’
- Fast Company – Massive Egyptian protests powered by YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Twitpic
- Newsweek – Inside Egypt’s Facebook revolt
- BBC – Egypt severs Internet connection amid growing unrest
- Global Voices – Egypt Protests 2011
- Andy Greenberg – Mubarank’s digital dilemma: why Egypt’s Internet controls failed (Forbes) (Thanks Adel)
- BBC – Egypt internet comes back online
- James Glanz and John Markoff – Egypt leaders found ‘Off’ switch for Internet (New York Times)
- Philip Shenon – Wikileaks cable could stir domestic unrest in Libya (The Daily Beast)
- Robert Mackey in the New York Times – Qaddafi sees Wikileaks plot in Tunisia
- John Boudreau (YemenOnline) – Internet technology a tool for political change in Arab world
- BBC – Hacktivists target Egypt and Yemen regimes (4 February 2011)
- Jennifer Preston -Facebook officials keep quiet on its role in revolts (New York Times, 14 February 2011)
Much research needs to be undertaken on the real role of ICTs in these ongoing political processes. What seems apparent, though, is that many participants do indeed believe that these technologies are helping them achieve their objectives.