Revolution 2.0

The last few weeks were full with reports on how social media applications, such as Twitter and Facebook, have contributed to the fall of governments in Tunisia and Egypt. We have seen protesters holding up signs like the following:

Or this one, implying that the Egyptian revolution was carried out through Twitter and Facebook:

A prominent Google marketing executive in the region, Wael Ghonim, has drawn a lot of attention to a Facebook group he has used to organize young people in Egypt. In his interviews with several US media outlets he highlights that the revolution started on Facebook – in June 2010. The government itself was apparently taken by surprise. Protesters organized and coordinated their actions using the #jan25 hashtag on Twitter – keeping the online movement alive. The Egyptian government quick shut down the internet and blocked access to Twitter and Facebook.

From a government perspective, criticism is popping up that social media is fueling the protesters – ignoring that the technology itself can’t spark a revolution. Instead, public managers need to be aware of what their citizens are talking about, where hot conversation topics are bubbling up, and how to make citizens feel that government is listening to their citizens’ needs.

What these so-called “social media revolution” also show is, that people don’t need a broadband connection to connect to each other – instead, cellphones are widely available, independent of income or education. What’s common to most of the governments that were overthrown or are under attack is that their citizens are disappointed or don’t feel that their government hears their wishes and complaints.

Also check out the Wallstreet Journal video discussion with Clay Shirky.

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About Ines Mergel

I am Full Professor of Public Administration at the Department of Politics and Public Administration at University of Konstanz, Germany. Previously, I served as Assistant and then Associate Professor (with tenure) at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, NY. In my research, I focus on informal social networks in the public sector and the adoption and diffusion of digital service innovations in government organizations. I teach classes on social media management, digital government, public management, and social network analysis.

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