Gunfire in Cairo: 3 ways social networks failed protesters

by Urs E. Gattiker on 2011/01/31 · 22 comments 10,073 views

in c micro-blogging Twitter,social media diary

The original story is below, while details about the updates can be found at the bottom.

Update 2012-09-29: Research of the Egyptian uprising and other significant events indicates that 30 percent of recorded history, as recorded on Twitter, is vanishing, i.e. tweets are no archived anywhere for posterity.

Update 2011-02-03: The OECD estimates that the Egyptian government’s blocking of Internet services for five days is likely to have cost the country US$90mioand a loss of 3-4 percent of GDP each day.

Update 2011-02-01: Google and Twitter work together to offer a speak-to-tweet service to Egyptians  – great example for how to use a political situation to build your company’s reputation and image on the back of other people’s suffering(s).

This week once again offered a demonstration of true revolutionaries at work in Tunisia, where they forced Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power, and Egypt, where demands for Mubarak to step down continue. Unfortunately, neither Twitter nor Facebook updates accomplished more than amplifying a hopeful echo around the world.

Blogging, micro-blogging and other social media are coming of age, but have they influenced these political protests? Is it true that Russians and President Medvedev found out about the carnage at Domodedovo Airport in Moscow through Twitter, as reported in the Financial Times?

      Article source –

ComMetrics weekly review: Gunfire in Cairo: What it means for Twitter

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Moscow bombings – the Financial Times loves social media BUT

Image - tweet - @eugenieveiras - The speed of information spreading: Twitter: 5 minutes, Radio: 30 minutes, Newswires: 1 hour, TV 2 hours #Domodedovo - Question: who can verify these claims made by @euenieveiras?This tweet was noted by the Financial Times as representing a situation in which Twitter is the best way to spread news among Russians.

The article also states that @Iplantov tweeted, “Medvedev, found out from Twitter what was going out at Demodedovo and prepared an electronic message.”

Besides the fact that we were unable to find that tweet, did President Dmitry Medvedev really get such bad news through Twitter? Unless Ms Weaver checked with his office, why would she pass on such information? Most importantly, if it is true, we should all be seriously worried: can Mr Medvedev really take the time out of his day to scan his Twitter feed?

I would have thought his intel services informed him of the event within minutes of the bomb’s detonation. He certainly was not checking his feed while giving a speech at this week’s Wolrd Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos.

Did I miss something? Inquiring minds want to know, so please leave a comment!

This latest episode brings to mind


The age of trivial minds

      that forget to double-check their news source(s) before touting what they consider news that is fit to print, and



The inflation of Twitter’s importance

    as an information source in case of a political crisis or terrorist attack. The past is repeating itself one again – think Iran.

By the way, can you trust the information you get via social networks (see why Twitter was unimportant during the Iran election)?

Just as building trust as a blogger journalist, newspaper and/or brand takes lots of time, that trust is also fragile and can easily be destroyed by failure to check facts or confirm a source:

Customer relationship management

      , and


Bloggers: Can I trust you?Egypt and Tunisia: Twitter and al-Jazeera

As previously mentioned, Twitter’s role in the Iranian protests was as fleeting as a retweet itself. When Iranian authorities clamped down on the 60 or so tweeters in Iran, the number dropped to six.

The Egyptian government decided not to risk even that and just cut off internet traffic (see below).
Image - graphic - Internet Traffic to and from Egypt on that day.  At 5:20pm EST, traffic to and from Egypt across 80 Internet providers around the world drops precipitously - 2011-01-27 - Source: Arbor Networks
Another interesting thing we discovered during this week’s Middle East turmoil was al-Jazeera’s obviously careful consideration of Qatar’s own diplomatic agenda before lashing out. Coverage of Tuesday’s ‘day of rage’ was relatively moderate, compared with coverage of the revolt in Tunisia. And while the station reported little about the Egyptian crackdown against protesters and Mubarak’s struggle stay in power, the station was busy campaigning against the Palestinian Authority.

Bottom line – takeaways

The Internet once again showed its prowess at spreading news and images that may help the world feel connected, but in the larger scheme of things it was probably quite unimportant to those directly affected this week.

By Friday, pressure from citizen journalists, bloggers and social media pundits forced al-Jazeera to return to its old form while reporting about Egypt’s streets. This clearly illustrates three things:


Protests happen with or without Twitter

      : the

telecoms blackout

      may have stopped mobile communications, but it

failed to stop

      the release of years of pent-up anger in Egypt’s streets.



al-Jazeera DOES have an agenda – activists beware

      : we have to take

al-Jazeera’s reporting with a grain of salt

      , since the station submits to Qatari rulers’ political interests, AND



Social media rarely matters during a civil uprising

      : social networks are not all pervasive and

political change remains difficult

    to accomplish, with or without Twitter.

If you like this post, please share it with your friends. How about asking them to comment after reading; I love to hear what people think!


Update 2012-09-29:

A news study of the Egyptian uprising and other major events reveals that almost almost 30 percent of recorded history, shared over social media such as Twitter, has disapeared.

A significant proportion of the websites that this social media points to (rememeber, the URLs people enclose in tweets – many are no longer online) has disappeared. And the same pattern occurs for other culturally significant events, such as the the H1N1 virus outbreak, Michael Jackson’s death and the Syrian uprising.

Research shows that within:

  • 1 year – 11 percent of the social media content had disappeared
  • 2 years – 27 percent has disappeared

Download the paper for free here:

Update 2011-02-03:  The blocking of the Internet for five days (i.e. until Tuesday this week) is likely to have cost the country US$ 90 mio, according to preliminary OECD estimates. The blocked services (telecommunication & Internet) account for roughly three to four percent of GDP or a loss of US$ 18 mio per day.

The OECD warns that this has cut off  domestic and international high-tech firms who provide services globally. This will make it tougher to sell Egypt as a place to outsource labor intensive work.  Political unrest in Egypt is a major reason, according to Keith McLoughlin, Electrolux CEO, why the company has put on hold a $480 mio deal to buy a controlling stake in Cairo-based Olympic Group, the biggest home appliance maker in the Middle East and North Africa.

Update 2011-02-01: Google and Twitter launch PR stunt = speak-to-tweet service. Twitter access and mobile networks remain cut off in Egypt.

Hence, Google Inc launched a speak-to-tweet  service to allow people in Egypt to send Twitter messages.

All they have to do is dialing  one of three phone numbers leaving a voicemail:

      – +16504194196 = number in the USA


      – +390662207294 = number in Italy, AND


    – +97316199855 = a number in Bahrain

You can listen to the tweets by calling the above numbers or else visiting

What does this mean?
Google, whose corporate motto is “Don’t Be Evil,” is not taking sides in the crisis in Egypt. Nevertheless, Google and Twitter are using this situation for creating goodwill in the West and possibly some Arab countries by appearing to do something for the people on the street.

These efforts are laudable and help those outside of Egypt to keep abreast of the latest developments. For instance, YouTube has been streaming live coverage of Al Jazeera’s broadcasts of the events in Egypt – although as shown above – Al Jazeera has its own agenda…..

Unfortunately, because the Internet as well as mobile networks are blocked in Egypt, these information sources cannot be used by those protesting on Egyptian streets.

And that dozens of the so-called speak-to-tweet messages were and continue to be featured on Twitter are not a reflection of true revolutionaries at work. It merely amplifies a hopeful echo chamber in the west.

Are you with me on these trends? Will Twitter and YouTube  help change things in Egypt for the better? What do you think? Please leave a comment; the floor is yours!

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  • Stan Faryna

    Urs:nnYes.nnThe mere mind tricks of the Twitterati cannot fell tyrants nor the evil plots and designs of oligarchs (recall Jabba the Hut mocking Skywalker). Even if you could get the top 1000 voices of Twitter to stop obsessing over iPhone, Android, self-help, Facebook v. Twitter… blah blah blah for one hour! You’re still not going to pull a fast one on plucky Jabba.nnYes! nnUnjust laws, corruption, and unpopular regimes must be challenged in the pubic square and on the streets. Authority must be delegitimized by the sound and fury of many – people searching for Freedom, for hope, etc. The standard formula, of course, requires false leaders to delegitimize themselves by their own moral misconduct – typically demonstrating their disinterest in dialogue, reform and responsibility for unpopular laws and policy.nnViolence is also an ingredient – however regrettable and unfortunate. Even non-violent protest anticipates and begs violent reproach in order that it can capitalize morally from the shocking, vivid and violent nature of an unjust authority.nnWhat we (the unwashed Twitter bots) are all waiting for are videos (iPhone or otherwise) of Egyptian military of police beating down, shooting, and crushing vulnerable men, women and children… ordinary people like us dieing for Freedom… and then we (the world) can sacrifice for and support the Egyptians in their struggle for Freedom with all our empathy, outrage and moral upperhand.nnNo.nnTwitter is a source – however, unorthodox, unreliable and fickle. The mainstream media (American or otherwise) has demonstrated itself often enough to be the counterfeit of bona fide journalism. They shill – if not punctuate their so-called news speak with the dogmas and false consciousness of corporate interest, governments, and all the other powers that be. On Twitter, you get a mash-up of honest opinion, personal interest, corporate spin, and fiction – but at least some of us can accept this as par for the course – a bit better than what we can expect from the one-dimensional, corporate multi-media – Al Jazeera, CNN, BBC or otherwise. nnNo!nnThe situation in Egypt has not become urgent for us – outside of Egypt. Regardless of the opportunities (and fears), the jury (of Twitter) is still taking in the information. You have jumped to conclusions (and, I confess, me too). And rational conclusions are not supposed to be leaps of imagination, faith or butterflies!nnIf #Egypt #TahrirSquare #Jan25 #Revolution #muslimonmuslimtreachery etc. were all trending hashtags for three days running, then you could call it like you do. If 20 percent of the top tweets were about Egypt for three days running, you could call it like you have. In other words, without the numbers and metrics, there’s nothing to say definitively. nnLike you, I too imagine that I would like to see Twitter or any other social media instrument have far-reaching and immediate impact on the course of human progress, dignity and freedom. I can almost taste it. Cant you? nnOn the other hand, let’s be careful about about what we are wishing for. That kind of impact would be the beginning of a wild, scary ride through hell. Because that kind of force of nature would be as uncontrollable, destructive and divisive as it could be useful and uplifting and unifying. Like a storm that doesn’t dissipate – it only grows and unleashes hell, anywhere, and at any time.nnHuh?nnThat connection (the sharing) that you gloss over is not to be ignored. The global sharing of experiences, aspirations, challenges etc. is strengthening the human family. We are building a global capacity for compassion, empathy and understanding. We are empowered. To connect, collaborate, dream, hope and, sometimes, struggle together to a common good.nnWhat if Twitter and Facebook empowers dissent, civil disobedience, dialogue, freedom, hope, forgiveness, and change across the Islamic empire?nnI would like to imagine that Muslims everywhere will come to know this ONE thing for sure: that the people and technologies of the West empowered them in a way that they could challenge their own demons and devils. That the great enemy was not the West but the ambitions, greed and arrogance of their own leaders. Like anywhere else.nnFacebook, Twitter, etc. – they provide us with previously unknown opportunities to define the course of human history, destiny and achievement. Together, we stand at the foot of the mountain. We cannot see the promised land from here. But at the top of this mountain that stands before us, the view will be picture perfect.nnKind regards,nnStan FarynannP.S. Your blog post did more for me than two Venti Green Tea Lattes. Keep that up! Lattes are way too expensive to throw down onetwothreefourfive justlikethat (yeah, e.e.cummngs) in this economy.

    • Urs E. Gattiker

      “What if Twitter and Facebook empowers dissent, civil disobedience, dialogue, freedom, hope, forgiveness, and change across the Islamic empire?”nn@Faryna thanks for sharing your thoughts on this blog post.nI agree with you that sharing what happens in Egypt, Sudan or any other political hotspot with civil protests is important. using Twitter and/or Facebook as well as blogs (see my blog post) does make it easier to keep informed and get a more accurate picture than traditional media might be able to provide.nnNevertheless, in the larger scheme of things it might change little on the ground. Put differently, Mubarak will not step down nor will his possible successor. Until this happens, little if anything has changed for the people.nnBy cutting off mobile networks and blocking internet access, the Egyptian authorities have assured that social networks do neither play a role nor help protesters to organise themselves using mobile phones or the mobile internet.nnAnd while you state that the situation has not become urgent for us outside of Egypt, the ramifications for the whole region are great. Unrest in Sudan, Oman, Jordan and so forth does make this something we should be interested in. Not just for humanitarian reasons but, as importantly, geo-political considerations cannot be ignored.nnStan, thanks so much for taking the trouble and crafting such an insightful answer.

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