Today, I attended the first day of the 2011 Personal Democracy Forum. It's always a kick ass conference. This year, the organizers, Mica Sifry and Andrew Rasiej, hit a home run, bringing together a morning and afternoon full of Arab Spring revolutionaries (as well as the usual A-list of Digerati.)
As a series of fresh revolutionaries-- people who just months earlier had braved the wrath of tyrants, risking life and limb-- cycled on and off the stage, I found myself smiling, excited, enthusiastic, occasionally eyes tearing, leaning forward at the edge of my seat. Remember. I was at a conference, not some thriller movie.
But this was better.
These people were real. They were smart, sophisticated, funny, savvy techno-digerati-- even though they came from third world, down-trodden countries.
These people were coming, exultant, joyful, proud-- they'd faced dictators and tanks and armies and faced them down and won liberty and democracy and freedom.
They made some things clear.
There were no leaders. The people were the superheroes. The people did this.
The internet helped, but as, Riadh GUERFALI a Tunisian lawyer said, " It's not the internet that accelearated history. it's that part of the UNCONTROLLED INTERNET that accelerated history."
Guerfali also pointed out that the Wikileaks cables showing that the US would be happy to see Tunisia's dictator fall were helpful, knowing the USA's stance. But it would have been nice if the US had let the Tunisian people know, he pointed out.
Siva VAIDHYANATHAN, University of VA Law School, Professor of Media Studies and author of The Googlization of Dissent, predicted that the days of the free, uncontrolled use of the internet are over, saying, "It Hasn't taken long for government to figure out how to use facebook against protesters. Nobody is going to make the mistakes the governments of Tunisia and Egypt made. "
There's definitely some truth to that. Governments WILL learn how to scope out and identify activists. But in a good way, the use of social media and Twitter and Facebook may be too pernicious in wreaking change in the users, even if the dictators go after the protesters.
Dr. Rasha Abdulla is Associate Professor and Chair of Journalism and Mass Communication at the American University in Cairo. Dr. Abdulla's main research interest is new media and the Internet, particularly as it relates to political activism. She believes that simply using facebook changes the way people think about expression, about how they relate with others-- that they have control over these things in a way they didn't think about before. governments to repress.
Over and over again, the revolutionaries made it clear that facebook and twitter helped, but were just factors. The work of revolution had been going on for a long time, eroding the "iron door" as Tunisia revolutionary Houeida Anouar, described things in Tunisia, before the young man who immolated himself caused the door to swing open enough to get a toehold. (the podcast of my interview with Houeida will be up Tuesday night.)
The Revolution WAS Tweeted. Houeida Anouar, Tunisian revolutionary and social media activist, at the Personal Democracy Forum-- I'm pretty sure, Tweeting.