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Egyptian Revolution: Network Theory Application to Social Networking

Sources:

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/polis/2011/02/11/after-tunisia-and-egypt-towards-a-new-typology-of-media-and-networked-political-change/

http://www.arabmediasociety.com/?article=694

Image from: http://www.thesocialpractice.co.uk/?p=215

Video URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2guKJfvq4uI


In February 2011, the Egyptian people put an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year-long rule in just 18 days.   The catalyst that transformed  brewing Egyptian discontent with the economic climate and government corruption into a full-scale revolution was a Facebook event calling Egyptians to go to Tahir Square and protest on January 25.  Information the January 25 event and future gatherings were dispersed on Facebook and Twitter.   Personal accounts and video recordings of the protest were distributed around the world via YouTube, blogs, social networking sites, and other websites, encouraging people from around the world to express their support of the Egyptian Revolution via Facebook groups and tweets.

The internet certainly not only played a substantial role in organizing the revolution, but it also affected how news about the revolution was broadcasted across the world.  Major news networks were not only the only mediums that reported on the revolution; people gave personal accounts and expressed their opinion of the events on Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, and other websites.  On the internet, information about the Egyptian revolution could spread rapidly among people from across the globe. This YouTube video titled “The Egyptian Revolution on Twitter” shows the number of retweets between people tagged with the hashtag #Jan25, a reference to the 2011 Egyptian revolution, that occurred as Hosni Mubarak announced his resignation. In the given networks, the nodes represent twitter users and the edges represent retweets between people. The network has expanded to an enormous size, indicating the vast number of people interested in happenings of the Egyptian revolution.

Many attribute the revolution’s success to these social networking sites, justifying their view with elements of network theory and referring to the strength of weak ties.  According to this blog post on the London School of Economics website, organizing the revolution online was an advantage for the protesters. On the internet, people can be connected via a relatively weak tie to share information. In a sense, people are nodes and the edges can represent the circulation of information between to the two individuals.  Because these types of ties connect people in a decentralized network, it is not easy for authorities to control the information distributed in the edge.

This idea is further explored in this article written about an Egyptian protest on April 6th 2008 . While this article describes different incident , its application of network theory is still relevant to the current revolution.  The article claims that the internet serves to reduce social distance between people, creating the small-world phenomenon, a similar concept to the idea of the six-degrees of separation. The theory of a small-world phenomenon states that nodes are clustered into small groups, and bridges are formed to other clusters via weak ties, or acquaintances. Hence, many clustered groups will be connected to many other groups through these weak ties, effectively “shrinking the world”. This effect demonstrate the strength of weak ties in bridging different types of people. The internet amplifies the power of these weak ties. Initially these ties were difficult and troublesome to maintain, Facebook and other social-networking site could make these weak connections more convenient to manage, making it easier to distribute information among these different clusters of people. Because information is dispersed among many groups of people, a decentralized and disembodied network would emerge. These kinds of networks are more resilient, making it difficult for the authorities to destroy it. The more nodes there are in a network and the more dispersed these nodes are, the more resistant the network could be to suppression; in order to weaken this kind of network, government would need to remove a large number of nodes, which would be a costly endeavor. As a result, this kind of network could be an effective method of organizing mass protests. To get a sense of how decentralized the network is and how many nodes are in the network , the image below demonstrates the influences of Twitter users in Egypt. Thus, if this theory is correct, it could provide a potential explanation for the triumph of the Egyptian protesters.

The power of social networking and the internet, while it did not cause the Egyptian revolution, could be one of the reasons for the revolution’s success. It certainly had an effect not only on Egypt, but it also left an indelible impression on the world. The events that transpired in those 18 days could galvanize others living in oppressed nations to rise up against their own governments. For instance, the Yemen Revolution erupted soon after, potentially as a response to the success of the Egyptian revolution.  Moreover, the power of weak ties on social networking sites and other internet sites serves as a reminder to the leaders of oppressed nations.  Because of the internet, regardless of how they may try to restrict their citizens’ ties to others, information that could inspire revolutions can still be easily amassed by the public.

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