Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

re:campaign XI: Tools of Change (How Social Media Helped Spark the Arab Spring)

On Saturday, I gave another talk in Berlin, this time at the re:campaign conference, on the role of technology in the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and beyond. My take, as I’m sure you know by now, is that tools are just that…tools, and that a revolution comes from human power, but that nevertheless, such technology has become integrated into our lives (and lives of Egyptians, Tunisians, etc) to the point where it’s only natural that we would turn to them in the case of social movements and protest.

My presentation, which doesn’t include many words, is below. If you’re interested in learning more (as a few folks who attended mentioned they were), I’m happy to also share the corresponding notes, though I warn that I tend to spend a lot of time putting together visual aids so that I can then speak off the cuff. Ultimately, this presentation takes you through a variety of examples of existing movements in Tunisia and Egypt, explaining how these movements were a long time in the making (Egypt backgrounder on that, by Hossam El-Hamalawy, here).

The slideshow then jumps into the question of what role these tools did in fact play, emphasizing their role as amplifiers rather than as organizational tools, while noting that that backchannels like email and private groups (as well as SMS) do exist and do matter. I end with a few key quotes from Egyptians and Tunisians whom I greatly admire, explaining the importance and role of tech in their own words. My presentation ends with a prescient quote from 2008 from Egyptian journalist Hossam El-Hamalawy, who wrote then:

The internet is only a medium and a tool by which we can support our “offline” activities. Our strength will always stem from the fact that we’ll have one foot in the cyberspace, and, more importantly, the other foot will be on the ground.

Check out the slides below, and as always, let me know if you have any questions:

4 Comments

  1. Hi Jillian.
    Is it possible to find your presentation online?
    Best, Liv.

  2. Without the social media tools that we have today I’m not sure the uprising in countries like Syria would have even occurred. I mean they were/are being oppressed BADLY and if it weren’t for their ability to communicate by way of these social media platforms there’s no way they would have been able to congregate in order to organize protests. It’s bad enough to the point that in Yemen they’re taking people out who are known to speak against the president. Whether that be publicly or online.

    My father is currently living there and I live in the US and he’s told me that here’s gun shots every single day on the way to and back from work. I worry about him everyday.

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