The revolution will not be televised, but tweeted. Make that the revolution will not be tweeted, but Speak2Tweeted.
Following a government shutdown of most Internet and mobile cellular service in Egypt last week, Twitter, Inc., declared freedom of expression — and by extension tweeting — to be a human right.
In a Jan. 28 blog post titled “The Tweets Must Flow,” Twitter general counsel Alexander Macgillivray and cofounder Biz Stone defended their mandate to protect Twitter users’ right to speak freely — and touted social media as not only fun but powerful.
The post went up as mass demonstrations calling for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak broke out across Egypt.
Over the weekend, Twitter teamed up with Google and SayNow, a company Google acquired just last month, to establish @Speak2Tweet. The account created a workaround for demonstrators to continue tweeting even though they were offline. Via @Speak2Tweet, anyone with access to a landline can leave voice messages, which are instantly posted on Twitter.
“Like many people, we’ve been glued to the news unfolding in Egypt and thinking of what we could do to help people on the ground,” said Ujjwal Singh, the co-founder of SayNow, and Abdel Karim Mardini, Google’s product manager for the Middle East and North Africa, in a joint statement Monday.
“Over the weekend, we came up with the idea of a speak-to-tweet service — the ability for anyone to tweet using just a voice connection,” the statement said. “We hope that this will go some way to helping people in Egypt stay connected at this very difficult time. Our thoughts are with everyone there.”
Macgillivray could not be reached for comment, but a spokesperson for Twitter issued the following statement on the company’s involvement in the Egyptian protests:
“Along with the rest of the world, we’re watching closely as the events in Egypt develop. We’re humbled by the way the people there have used Twitter to communicate with each other and people around the globe. We’ve always believed that the open exchange of information can have a positive impact.”
“Speak2Tweet has changed the game,” said Brad Shear, a lawyer and social media expert based in the Washington, D.C., metro area. “Shutting down the Internet is not enough,” said Shear. “Now you also need to shut down telephone landlines.”
He said that it’s very difficult for countries, even those with limited political freedoms, to cut off all forms of communication without simultaneously destroying their economy. “If you can’t communicate with the outside world, there are implications,” said Shear.
Instead, technology must be embraced and utilized. “You can’t silence the messenger,” said Shear. “You must engage with your detractors and try to find common ground.”
Social media has enabled large groups of people to discuss their anger collectively and engage in political crowdsourcing in countries where citizens don’t typically have political freedoms, said Shear.
In his blog, Shear on Social Media Law, which is part of Law.com’s blog network, he wrote that where the Iranian Twitter Revolution failed to achieve its immediate goal of peaceful institutional change in 2009, it may have inspired the current Social Media Revolution in Egypt.
It appears Egyptians have learned a lesson from Iran’s failed Twitter Revolution and pre-planned to try to create institutional change via social media, said Shear.
“It appears that the Egyptians knew exactly how Mubarak would react,” he said. They knew he would shut down the Internet and would refuse to communicate with the demonstrators through social media. “Mubarak should have engaged his country via social media and set up a dialogue because by shutting down the Internet he only proved that he is a dictator that does not want any dissenting opinion,” said Shear. “Therefore, these actions have only emboldened his detractors and demonstrated Mubarak is not capable of change.”
“It’s very cool, but also very scary what all this technology can do,” said Shear. “It’s a very exciting world,” he said. “The sky’s the limit.”
As of Wednesday, mobile and Internet service had been restored in Egypt and Speak2Tweet had almost 10,000 followers. Mubarak’s refusal to immediately step down from office caused violence to escalate (Mubarak has said he won’t seek re-election in September).
According to The Associated Press, on Wednesday Mubarak supporters charged into Cairo’s central square on horseback and camels and others threw firebombs at anti-government protesters. Three people died and 600 were injured.
Shannon Green can be contacted at email@example.com.