My mom leaves CNN on in the kitchen basically all day. Because of this, new–biased or not–was always kind of in my periphery growing up. I would eat breakfast with “New Day” and come home to AC360. News was something I passively consumed, but never actively sought out. I remember hearing about the events unfolding in Egypt and thinking that it all just kind of organically happened the way it did. However, reading Ghonim’s account of the events, I now have a very different understanding of what happened and why.
What struck me most about Ghonim’s story was how incredibly crafted the entire narrative was. He was focussed on how he could get the most likes and comments in order to spread his message. In order to do that, he needed to figure out the right kind of content people would respond to. One instance that particularly surprised me was how he used his kid’s drawing in order to bring a certain sentimentality to the page. Perhaps what struck me about this was not that it was extraordinary that he developed a narrative, but rather that what he is explaining is exactly how we (or at least I) use Facebook. I have become very aware that I post what I think people will like. There’s validation that comes along with people responding to what you’re shooting into the void. But, Ghonim realized how to harness social media into something that wasn’t just a void. He learned how to develop a community of engaged people.
One thing that does concern me about these social media-driven movements is that there is something really powerful about claiming a stance in person. It is much easier to say and do things from behind a computer screen. Social movements I think have been effective in the past have had a personal leader people can follow and I think part of that comes along with the courage that is associated with standing in front of a group of people and saying “I believe this. Join me.” Does anonymity of leadership generate more support for a movement, or does it ultimately leave people unaccountable for their actions?