enabling tomorrow's human rights leaders, today
The 2011 Oslo Freedom Forum has discussed the power of social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook in great depth. Today the audience heard from innovators in the field of human rights activism who have found a new kind of weapon against oppression. Wael Ghonim used Facebook to fan the fire of the Egyptian revolution, Lina Ben Mhenni has exposed the flaws of the Tunisian transitional government, and Amir Ahmad Nasr has used his blog “The Sudanese Thinker” to shed light on political developments in Sudan to the international community. While the power of social media is real, as Mona Eltahawy reminded the forum audience, the power of sites like Twitter and Facebook are not the only factor in a successful popular uprising.
The revolution which is sweeping the Arab World is not merely technological; it is human, born from the heart, and has come alive through protesters taking to the street, risking life and limb for a cause. Twitter and Facebook have no doubt played their role. Wael Ghonim spoke about the “freedom flu,” and we have seen that social media has played a critical role in transmitting this infectious desire for freedom on both the national and international level. However, we must remember that the goal of a revolution can not be completed simply through helping the revolution to grow.
Wael Ghonim continued his speech about the “freedom flu” by urging the audience to face the real challenge that Egypt now faces. Just as George Ayittey said during his “How to Defeat a Dictator” speech, the critical part of a revolution comes after the regime has toppled, once a new government is in place it is time for economic reform. The most important part of a revolution is in ensuring its sustainability. Social media is powerful but it is not limitless. While we must acknowledge the power of social media, we must acknowledge its limits, and we must not forget that words must be followed by actions. We as human rights fighters must heed the words of Gregory Shvedov, that it is important to take thirty minutes a week to make our voices heard, but we must not forget that the social media is still just a medium. Revolution has started with the courage of the people, has grown through social media, but must end with economic and constitutional reform.