Social media and other tales of ordinary madness in Syria

So this week Syria Deeply and many other news outlets have reported about Eliot Higgins, a 34 years old from England. A very ordinary life, a daily job from 9 to 5, a wife, a small child. But, wait, this is the man behind the famous  Brown Moses` blogwhich, after the beginning of the Syrian uprising has turned into a source for many journalists and activists around the world.

Higgins does not speak Arabic and has never been in the Arab world or  “anywhere in the Middle East”, he says, “other than the Dubai airport”. Yet, he was able to build up a powerful list of resources, mostly YouTube channels, that document what`s happening in Syria. Starting as a “news junkie”, he has so far collected one of the biggest online libraries about the Syrian revolution and has also helped Human Rights Watch to find evidence of the use of cluster bombs in Syria. All of that, using YouTube and social media only.

Higgins says here:

“Sitting in my living room in England, it’s incredible to think that from anywhere in the world it’s possible to see the day-to-day struggles of the Syrian people and the scale of the violence they witness. What makes Syria so unusual is — despite the two years of conflict in the country, from street protests to civil war — the Internet has rarely been cut off. As a result, there has been a constant flow of information from the country through social media — with hundreds of thousands of Syrian YouTube videos, Tweets, and Facebook posts over the last two years. It’s an overwhelming amount of information, a maelstrom of data”.

This makes me think about Andy Carvin, the NPR new media specialist who has become  well known to the international and Arab crowd for having documented the Arab Spring without moving from Washington DC.

Despite I really admire folks like Andy and Eliot, I find really hard to embrace their theory of documenting something without never having been on the ground, without speaking the language, without understanding the culture. I have myself lived in Syria for years, I speak the language and know many things about the culture, but I find so hard to keep track of everything, verify all the accents in local dialects from different places in Syria, the geography, etc.

If we can document and verify things remotely, only using social media, like Andy and Eliot do, well then why spending so many years and hours and hours of hard study to understand a language, a culture?

I admire them, but remain skeptical.

And, the “sitting on your sofa and watching” thing made me think of this very sad cartoon which Syrians are widely sharing on Facebook these days…

Facebook_Syria

 

 

 

 

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The Al Jazeera controversy over Syria, and why we should say no to nihilism

The controversy over Al Jazeera`s coverage of the Syrian uprising has been ongoing for quite a while. Actually, I remember Al Jazeera`s coverage to have been quite controversial since the very first days of the uprising, as it was pretty much non-existent.  At the time, pro-revolution activists accused the Qatari based-channel to underestimate the protests that started on March 15th 2011 in the country and to have given them almost zero airtime. The channel was accused to serve the diplomatic interests of Qatar, which at the time was pretty close to Bashar al-Asad and his family.

But soon the situation changed and Al Jazeera started to cover Syria extensively. I remember very well those Fridays during which I would sit with friends in Damascus to watch the  Al Jazeera-exclusive live coverage of the demonstrations from places such as Daraa, Homs, or from the suburbs of the capital. Sometimes they would split the TV screen into four, in order to give space and relevance to each city that was protesting.

This was when the majority of the Syrian activists were still in love with Al Jazeera, and when pro-regimes were actively engaged in a campaign aimed at defaming the channel for its allegedly unbalanced and unprofessional coverage of the crisis in Syria. This campaign even took some “creative” aspects as in these posters designed by pro-regime activists and distributed on Facebook.

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(source: anonymous pro-regime activists on Facebook)

After these episodes, which were mostly concentrated in the first six months of the uprising, many things have happened. Criticism is now coming not only from pro-regime activists, but also from some of Al Jazeera`s employees, such as the head of Beirut office Ghassan Ben Jeddo, who resigned in protest of an alleged lack of professionalism of the channel in reporting the Syria crisis; or Ali Hashem, a journalist from Beirut.

Internal criticism coming from the employees of the channel has matched with an increasing criticism coming from Arab analysts, such as Sultan al Qassemi, who in this article accused Al Jazeera to have failed to portray the Syrian uprising in a professional, balanced way. Many Syrian activists, too,  have lamented the alleged sectarian angle of Al Jazeera`s coverage of Syria, which would give prominence and relevance to the Sunni-led component of the uprising, ignoring the contributions given by Syrian minorities (such as Christians, Ismailis and Alawis) to organizing protests and anti-regime civil disobedience actions.

Despite all the criticism and many mistakes made by Al Jazeera (as much as by other channels, I have to say) in terms, for example, of not always verifying information and videos coming from social media before the actual broadcast, I have t to admit that I was pretty interested by the way they covered the “dhikra” of the second year anniversary of the Syrian uprising, few days ago. It was quite comprehensive, touching various angles, from the military one to the humanitarian, and covering different part of Syria in a simultaneous way.

I was particularly touched by the coverage of Aleppo done by Ghada Oweis, who reported from inside the city, focusing on how life goes on, despite all the difficulties, in areas that are under the control of the Free Syrian Army. Al Jazeera has put a different correspondent in each different areas of Aleppo, and sometimes they do a live broadcast going from one neighbourhood to the other, giving a pretty incredible feeling of simultaneity, hence a feeling of life.

Ghada Oweis, according to this post distributed virally on Facebook, is “wanted” by an Aleppian businessman who is ready to pay 50.000 USD dollars to have the journalist (and “terrorist” as it is written in the post) remitted to the Syrian authorities, “dead or alive”.

I dont know this gentleman and have not enough connections to verify if this post is true or is fabricated by other parties in order to suggest that pro-regime activists are ready to kill journalists. I don`t know.

Ghadaoweis

(source: Facebook)

 

There are so many things we don`t know. I watched another news story done by Ghada in Aleppo few days ago, concerning an historical building being reconverted in a school for children after being bombed by the regime. There was a teacher being interviewed who told the story of the building, of the kids, of the attempts to have life back in that building despite all odds. It was a touching story but I felt something strange when the guy mentioned the fact that the building was bombed “an year  and half ago”. At the time, in fact, bombing of Aleppo had not started yet. But, I thought, the guy might have been just a bit emotional and made a mistake (although the journalist should have corrected him). When I switched Twitter on, however, I found something in Edward Dark`s timeline which was pretty incredible. Edward is a nickname for a well-know activist from Aleppo who stood against the regime since the beginning of the revolution, but eventually turned against the revolution itself when it reached an armed phase, and notably when the FSA gained ground in his own city, Aleppo.

So what was in Edward`s timeline? A message from a Facebook account, allegedly that of lawyer Alaa al Sayed who, according to Edward, is a famous pro-civil society activist (and, I gather, not a regime goon). He said:

الاعلامية غادة عويس على الجزيرة غطت منذ قليل بتقرير صحفي بناء تاريخي حلبي تعرض للقصف :
للتوثيق و التاريخ :
—————————
البناء هو للكنيسة اليسوعية التي بنيت عام 1887 م ثم
تم تأجيرها لمديرية التربية في بداية الخمسينات و صارت مدرسة،
بعدما انتقلت الكنيسة الى ساحة الكرنك ثم الى العزيزية .
تم استخدامها كروضة باسم روضة ازهار تشرين حتى اغلاقها منذ ما يزيد على السنتين
و تم تحويلها بعد ترميمها الى متحف وضعت فيه الوسائل التعليمية الاثرية التي كانت مستخدمة في مدرسة المأمون منذ مائة عام والتي وجدت في أقبية المأمون عند ترميمها .
ملاحظات على التقرير :
—————————-
لم تكن الروضة مفتوحة منذ عام و نصف و اغلقت بسبب القصف، فلم يكن هناك قصف بحلب منذ عام و نصف.
و الروضة مغلقة قبل ذلك بكثير .
و الشاب الذي زعم انه معلم في هذه الروضة و توقف طلابه عن تلقي العلم غبر صادق .
لم تكن هذه الكنيسة يوما مدرسة الشمبانيا و هي معهد الاخوة الفرير في منطقة المحافظة، و صورة التلاميذ و الاساتذة المكتوب عليها مدرسة الشمبانيا التي استندت اليها الاعلامية عبارة عن صورة تاريخية وضعت في المتحف .
و الرجل من اهل الحي الذي قابلته و قال ذلك لا يمكن ان يكون من اهل الحي يوما .
الرجل الذي قال انه من اهل الحي و اولاده كانوا طلابا في روضة المدرسة و انقطعوا عن الدوام بسبب الاحوال الحالية ، غير صادق فلا هو من اهل الحي و لا اولاده كانوا في الروضة المغلقة من سنوات .
غادة العويس : في حلب تحديدا يطلب منك مزيدا من المهنية و التدقيق …ديري بالك معنا ما في لعب …

I won`t translate the message, but just the most important part of it, which is that, according to this gentleman, Ghada has been inaccurate in her story about the old building. First, because as I had also noticed, there was no bombing in Aleppo “half an year ago”. “The building was closed much longer before”. Second, because the guy who pretended in the news items to be a teacher in that school would be lying. Third, because the place itself was not what the report pretends it to be, but an historical Jesuit church which then became an institute run by the “Freres” , etc etc etc. Fourth, because the picture featuring the school pupils which the report shows is, according to Mr Al Sayed, an historical picture coming from the museum.

I could continue but I will stop. What does this lesson teach us? Not to trust Al Jazeera? Not to trust Twitter and Facebook? not to trust images?

I don`t know Aleppo enough to establish the truth on that building, or church, or whatever it is. I don`t know either Ghada Oweis or Alaa al Sayed to have enough elements to decide about who is right and who is wrong. This is yet another example of the complexity we are running through, every day, when it comes to Syria coverage.  But we should not embrace nihilism, as many are doing: “since everything can be fabricated by those folks, by both sides, then everything will be fabricated so I wont believe to anything that comes out from Syria”.

At the end of the day, this is the game the regime wants to play. And this is why at the beginning of the revolution, and for a very long time, it was so careful not to allow professional journalists in the country, which has left the entire Syria coverage in the hands of activists.

What we should do is to continue asking questions, to ourselves and to the others, every time we watch a news item -as much as when we read Facebook posts or  a tweet-, in order to understand where the truth lies. It is a time-consuming operation, I know. I have myself not enough time to do it -as journalism is not my daily job, and this blog posts took at least three days before being written, as I had promised  Ryan Smith on Twitter –.

But we should aim at doing it, always. Asking questions is an healthy exercise.

Nihilism is not.

 

La rete da sola non fa le rivoluzioni

Pubblico qui sotto il mio pezzo uscito ieri su Alias, supplemento de Il Manifesto, con qualche riflessione sulla “rivoluzione” in rete e in strada in Egitto..

La rete da sola non fa le rivoluzioni

L`intifada egiziana – “rivolta”, cosi come l`ha immediatamente battezzata Al Jazeera– si e` conclusa vittoriosa venerdi scorso con la cacciata del trentennale dittatore Hosni Mubarak. ..E gia` il cinguettio di Twitter si sposta su un altro hashtag # (la “marca” che permette di raggruppare gli argomenti discussi sul social network in un unico flusso), quello dell`Algeria, poi del Bahrain, prossimi obiettivi della nuova “onda” araba di proteste. Come Tunisi ha girato il testimone all`Egitto, adesso questo prova a passare la palla (messi da parte i dissapori calcistici) all`Algeria, in una corsa tumultuosa che ha coinvolto tutto il mondo arabo in questo inizio di nuovo decennio.

Di questa febbre “rivoluzionaria” scoppiata in Medio Oriente -e del ruolo che avrebbero avuto i social network, in particolare Twitter, nel fomentarla- si e` detto ormai tutto.

L`Occidente e` innamorato dell`idea che le sue infrastrutture tecnologiche, ormai diventate infrastrutture della vita grazie alla capacita di regalare comunicazione im-mediata, abbiano acceso la miccia rivoluzionaria nel mondo arabo in tempi lampo. In realta`, ne` la Tunisia ne ` l`Egitto sono state “Twitter revolutions”.

In Tunisia l`accesso ad Internet non e` mai stato cosa facile, e il paese ha sofferto blocchi e censure anche riguardo a basilari servizi di posta elettronica come hotmail. La blogosfera tunisina, come quella nordafricana in generale, e` francofona, percio` spesso poco in contatto con l`Egitto, il Levante e il Golfo dove e` l`arabo – se non l`inglese- a predominare.

In Egitto i movimenti di protesta guidati dai blogger (come quello cosidetto del “6 Aprile”) e le prime manifestazioni organizzate grazie alla capacita` aggregative dei social network -in particolare Facebook- erano attivi e agguerriti gia` dalla prima meta` del nuovo millennio. Sono anni in cui i blogger egiziani entrano ed escono dalle galere e dai tribunali, denunciano torture, mostrano i primi video di violenze della polizia contro gli attivisti, postati su YouTube da Wael Abbas e da Noha Atef sul sito tortureinegypt.net.

Le rivolte della fine 2010-inizio 2011 sono percio cosa maturata negli anni: non certo scoppiate grazie a Twitter e non certo in un battibaleno. I social network hanno pero negli anni lavorato indirettamente a far emergere una cultura che il giurista Larry Lessig, fondatore di Creative Commons, definisce “read and write culture” , cioe una cultura attiva, propositiva, che non si basa soltanto sul consumo (read) di contenuti altrove prodotti bensi sulla scrittura (write) e ri-scrittura (re-mix) di nuove storie. Twitter e gli altri social network sono gli “attrezzi” per riprendersi questa creativita ormai sparita negli ultimi decenni del secolo scorso, l`epoca del dominio dei media di massa come la TV e dell`inasprimento delle leggi sulla protezione intellettuale (nemica giurata del remix).

Produrre e non soltanto consumare: che si tratti di un video, di un blog post. Anche solo di un “cinguettio” di 140 caratteri, che intanto e` comunque allenamento costante, un esercizio che indirettamente combatte l`autorita suprema del “read only” (leggere solo) con l`ironia del “ri-scrivere”, “ri-twittare”, _ri-linkare”, “ri-postare”, “ri-mixare”.

Per molti anni osservo in Medio Oriente questi giovani, Alaa Abd el Fattah e Manal Hassan, Wael Abbas, Nora Younis, Noha Atef, Hossam el Hamalawy,Slim Amamou, Sami Ben Gharbia e tanti altri come loro, giovani fra i 20 e 30 anni, di tutto il mondo arabo, incontrarsi periodicamente nei barcamp, nei geekfest, nei pecha kucha, in tutti gli eventi “techie” nati principalmente in USA e diventati parte integrante delle culture autoctone mediorientali. C`e qualcosa, nella “garage culture” made in Silicon Valley-California, che e` passata oltreoceano e ha trovato un nuovo senso in mezzo ai deserti, agli slum, ai grattacieli delle metropoli arabe. Cosa mai avranno in comune, mi chiedo, una cultura per eccellenza votata all`iniziativa privata, al rischio, con questa tradizione mediterranea di accettazione–assorbimento all`interno dei gangli del potere, che si tratti di famiglia, lavoro o societa… Beh, qualcosa, a pensarci bene, ce l`hanno: quell`essere giovani sempre che, se negli USA e` una condizione quasi esistenziale, in Medio oriente e` una inconfutabile verita` anagrafica. Oltre il 65% della popolazione araba ha meno di 25 anni. Non tutti, certo, hanno accesso ad Internet, non tutti parlano inglese, non tutti twittano o hanno un blog. Ma quest`elite a un certo punto ha cominciato a incontrarsi con quella libanese e yemenita, in meeting e workshop tecnologici dove involontariamente si faceva un nuovo panarabismo, giovane, tecnologico e non ideologico.

Ricordo l`ultimo di una lunga serie di questi incontri: l`Arab bloggers meeting, nel dicembre 2009 a Beirut. Sapientemente orchestrato da Sami Ben Gharbia, attivista di Global Voices e cyber dissidente tunisino adottato dall`Olanda, il workshop aveva riunito tutte le facce che abbiamo visto in queste due intifade, dal blogger tunisino ora sottosegretario alla gioventu e allo sport Slim Amamou all`attivista egiziano del movimento open software Alaa Abd el Fattah, a sua moglie Manal Hassan, fondatrice dell`Arab techies women, un gruppo di donne arabe programmatrici di computer e appassionate di tecnologia. In quel dicembre 2009 a Beirut c`erano tutti i volti giovani di queste rivoluzioni, insieme a tanti altri giovani techies e attivisti di tutto il mondo arabo, forse protagonisti delle rivoluzioni che verranno. Ci si parlava, ognuno nel suo dialetto, si condividevano trucchi per bypassare censura e sorveglianza dei regimi, si studiavano progetti comuni.

I social network non fanno le rivoluzioni ma lavorano, lentamente ma inesorabilmente, sul cambiamento sociale. Lo fanno anche sviluppando la “read and write” culture, dando una possibilita vera alla creazione, oltre che al consumo. Poi mettono tutto in circolo in rete, cosi che ognuno guarda l`altro, ognuno e` costantemente in contatto con l`altro, e quando uno di questi nodi della rete viene a mancare e` tutta la rete che insorge e si mobilita (come e` successo a Wael Ghonim di Google, rilasciato dalle autorita egiziane dopo 12 giorni di martellante campagna mediatica seguita alla sua scomparsa) .

Questi nodi collegati fra loro -eppure senza un centro, senza una testa o un leader- sono “i piccoli pezzi liberamente connessi”, la metafora del web coniata anni fa da David Weinberger. Nessuno avrebbe mai immaginato di ritrovarli un giorno, attivi e pronti a far collassare il sistema proprio in Medio Oriente. Ma sul mondo “virtuale” di Twitter e Facebook si e` innestato quello, realissimo, della strada, della fame, della disoccupazione, dei sogni infranti di Sidibouzid.

La rete da sola non fa le rivoluzioni, ma il cambiamento sociale, a poco a poco, quello si. Le capitali arabe gremite di Internet cafe, connesse attraverso cavi di fortuna, piratati e riuniti in network “informali” , i wi-fi dispensati gratuitamente per aumentare il consumo nei ristoranti hanno construito negli anni una mappa geografica del cambiamento.

La tecnologia e` come un giocattolo: il padre che lo regala a suo figlio non sa mai come lo usera`, e sicuramente lo fara` in modo diverso rispetto a quanto lui si sarebbe augurato.

Non dimentichero mai la frase comparsa sui muri di Amman qualche anno fa. Diceva: “Internet e` vita”

(mentre scrivo questo pezzo, su Twitter mi arriva la segnalazione di un utente di San Francisco che ha elaborato una mappa grafica che visualizza il grado di influenza esercitao da alcuni utenti su altri durante la rivolta egiziana http://www.kovasboguta.com/. Vedo il mio nome comparire fra quei puntini blu e mi chiedo: sara` mai vero che anch`io, con i miei tweet, ho giocato un ruolo in questa cosa? Poi guardo i piccoli pezzi liberamente connessi visualizzati in questa mappa. Solo di pochi e` possibile leggere il nome, e quello che veramente conta e` soltanto la rete di connessioni. Wael Ghoneim, l`unico che abbia una “faccia” -grazie pero` alle TV che ne hanno mandato in onda lunghe interviste dopo il rilascio- fa sapere, nello stesso instante, sempre su Twitter, che fara` un libro dal titolo “rivoluzione 2.0”. Che importa quanto il marketing si sia gia buttato a far fruttare questo glamour tecnologico di ultima generazione, mi dico..Quella e` la vecchia logica del consumo da televisione. L`unica cosa che invece veramente conta qui e` che tutti gli altri del nostro Twitter network, quelli senza “faccia”, abbiano gia` spostato l`attenzione della rete su altro, l`Algeria, il Bahrain.. sul prossimo hashtag.. forse sulla prossima rivoluzione..)

19/02/11

Source: kovasboguta.com

Syria lifts ban on Facebook, You Tube, Wikipedia, Blogspot, etc

First thing I do in the morning, before everything else, it`s to switch Twitter on. My Twitter feed always brings surprises. And this morning, one of the tweeps wrote:  “is blogspot.com unblocked in #Syria now?“. I immediately went to the blog hosting service website and checked: it was available! I have never ever accessed this before from Syria as it has been blocked for years. Rumours were growing on the social networks, but I had to leave for a long day of work out and with no  Internet connection.

Mid-afternoon, a TV producer, almost by chance, mentioned “..they lifted the ban on Facebook today!“. Couldn`t believe this, but first thing  I did when I went back home was checking and, incredible, You Tube is un-blocked, as many other websites including the Syrian human rights information link.

Well, I still have issues opening Facebook and the funny thing is that, while trying to open Global Voices` article “Facebook and You Tube unblocked among others” I got a scary “access denied!”. Global Voices` website has been always accessible in Syria and it is still openly accessible, it seems that just this article has been blocked, maybe because it contains some URL related to Facebook or cause the de-blocking work has not been carried on properly yet (the responsible guy might have been out for dinner or sleeping,  as @basselsafadi joked).

If you think that blocking an article that announces the de-blocking process of a ban doesn`t make sense, well then you don`t know Syria and its fascinating inclination towards creativity (and contradiction) when it comes to these issues.

So it really looks like an opening up. Today some tweeps elaborated that this might be the result of the Tunisian “wave” indirect reform pressure on other governments, others thought that this was due to the  predominance  of  anti-“Syrian angry day” groups  on Facebook (which gives an excuse not to officially block the social network any more).Facebook and many other websites have been blocked in the country for many years now but have always been widely available through proxies and widely tolerated even in public Internet cafes.

To find an answer  we should go back to January 31st, when the Wall Street Journal released an interesting interview with  Syrian President Al Assad.

The title speaks for itself: “Time for reform“.In the interview, the President says:

“Actually, societies during the last three decades, especially since the eighties have become more closed due to an increase in close-mindedness that led to extremism. This current will lead to repercussions of less creativity, less development, and less openness. You cannot reform your society or institution without opening your mind. So the core issue is how to open the mind, the whole society, and this means everybody in society including everyone. I am not talking about the state or average or common people. I am talking about everybody; because when you close your mind as an official you cannot upgrade and vice versa”.

And then:

“Reform could start with some decrees but real reform is about how to open up the society, and how to start dialogue. The problem with the West is that they start with political reform going towards democracy. If you want to go towards democracy, the first thing is to involve the people in decision making, not to make it. It is not my democracy as a person; it is our democracy as a society. So how do you start? You start with creating dialogue. How do you create dialogue? We did not have private media in the past; we did not have internet or private universities, we did not have banks. Everything was controlled by the state. You cannot create the democracy that you are asking about in this way. You have different ways of creating democracy”.

So maybe this is a start. Considering the all-positive vibes going on Twitter today, it should be a good start.

At the same time, the English edition of Baladna newspaper titled against an alleged ban on mobile phones chat services applications. If  confirmed it would imply that those who are responsible might not have listened carefully to  the President`s words or maybe  it`s just a matter of a temporary lack of fine-tuning.

They might just look as if in an apparent contradiction..and nothing is so nicely contradictory as this beautiful country and its people that never lacked creativity.

 

 

 

 

No ignition..just another rainy day in Damascus

It has been raining almost all morning and afternoon today in Damascus. Is has been raining a lot in the past few days,too, but today it just looked more gloomy… the rain, foggy and cold weather, empty streets as every Friday because of the weekend.

But there was something more in the atmosphere of this restless beautiful city, or maybe something less. As Tololy wrote on Twitter today “Facebook fails to ignite protests in #Syria” .

In the past days  newspapers, websites, news outlets have been reporting about the so-called “Syrian days of anger”-pacific rallies following the Tunisian and Egyptian “wave”- that should have been taken the country by storm starting by today. But who really believed this was going to happen???

Maybe foreigner news outlets or NGOs, or Syrians living abroad did. A Facebook group has been set to organize the protests of the “Syrian days of anger” with more than 10.000 members (by the way, very few have reported that the total number of members of counter-groups was actually much higher).

“But the Internet magicians promised revolts!” has twitted Abumuqawama. Sure, but a click on the “like” button on Facebook doesn`t translate into street action and that`s why the “Syrian revolution” is going to stay on Twitter as streets are going to stay empty in Damascus.

The situation in Syria is very different and so much more complicated in some ways than Egypt or Tunisia. It`s  easy, particularly for Western media, to generalize and hope that new media will take the whole Middle East into a storm. But Syrian society is much more fragmented and nobody “wants to risk civil war” as Joshua Landis reminded.

Anyway, more is planned for tomorrow, sat #feb5. Another day of anger..or just another rainy day???

 

Meedan Tahrir-social media,social change and the read/write generation of #jan25 (by Meedan.net)

I`ve just found this letter in my mailbox. It`s signed by the founder of Meedan, Ed Bice, who has been working for years on bridging the West and the Arab world with a great team of engineers, bloggers, translators. The work done by Meedan.net is now more important than ever, cause it helps understanding and contextualizing   the current events by bringing together a variety of voices into a global conversation.

I`m grateful to Ed and his team for the great work they have been carrying on cultural dialogue with the Arab world and I hope he won`t mind if I re-publish here this thoughtful piece about Meedan Tahrir, social media and social media.
I have particularly appreciated his focus on the “read-write”  generation of #jan25 and I`ve immediately thought of Larry Lessig , the founder of Creative Commons, when he stressed on the fact that we should fight to preserve the “read-write” Internet as something that lies “beyond consumption”.
Lessig understood this many years ago, i.e. that a technology which easily allows people to create -and not only to consume- has an enormous potential. A potential for human development, creativity and, yes, also for social change. Maybe what we are witnessing these days in Tahrir is also the result of this extraordinary change, the rising of a “read-write” Internet culture against the “read-only” culture which has been dominating the 20th century.
And yes, I`m still convinced that social media tools don`t make a revolution..because, as  this article written by Marko Papic and Sean Noonan points out, “at the end of the day, for a social media-driven protest movement to be successful, it has to translate social media membership into street action”.
But, the lesson learned about social media is the one Ed reminds us about:
“The power of new media is ‘lower in the stack’- to invoke a geek metaphor- it is in the recognition that we the digital generation have come to regard society itself as a read/write medium. We are all authors now, and the privilege to collaborate and revise is not simply a web protocol, not simply a human right, rather, it has become a human attribute”.
Thank you shabbab #jan25 for reminding us of our humanity.

 

Meedan Tahrir – social media, social change, and the read/write generation of #jan25

On Tuesday of this week, already eight days into unprecedented popular protests in Egypt, I penned an optimistic note which I planned to publish the next day. Today, Thursday, instead I have exchanged my optimism for fear, I have thrown out yesterday’s message after having tried a dozen times to fit it into the context of what has happened in the last 48 hours.

في يوم الثلاثاء من هذا الأسبوع، ومع مرور ثمانية أيامٍ على بدء سلسلة الاحتجاجات غير المسبوقة في تاريخ مصر، دونت بقلمي ملحوظة تفاؤلية كنت قد أعددت لنشرها في اليوم التالي. واليوم، الخميس، تبدَّل تفاؤلي إلى خوفٍ، فلقد ألقيت برسالة الأمس بعيدًا بعد أن حاولت مرارًا وتكرارًا أن أُوفقها مع ما حدث في إطار الثمان وأربعين ساعة الماضية.

The internet went back on and the peace went out – this is not the way it was scripted – my insights are dated and the conclusions don’t fit. Yesterday’s essay sang, today’s essay mumbles and walks into walls.
فقد عادت خدمة الإنترنت مجددًا، ولكن السلام قد رحل -ولم تكن تلك هي الطريقة التي كنت قد خططتها في رسالتي. والآن أصبحت ملاحظاتي قديمة وأضحت النتائج غير متوافقةٍ مع ما يقع هناك. فلقد كانت مقالة الأمس تغني مبتهجةً ومتهللة، أما مقالة اليوم فهي تغمغم في حيرة وتخبط.
Yesterday I woke up expecting to witness the last moments of a social media revolution without the social media. Egyptians were weaving a peaceful narrative of change even without the internet. When you take the web away, we thought, the social network doesn’t go out – the people still sing, peacefully.

حين استيقظت من نومي يوم أمس، توقعت أن أشهد اللحظات الأخيرة لثورة شبكات الإعلام الإجتماعي بدون تلمس وسائط هذا الإعلام الإجتماعي. فقد كان المصريون يرددون هتافات سلمية للتغيير حتى بدون عمل خدمة الإنترنت. إلا أننا كنا نعتقد أنه عندما تسقط خدمة الإنترنت، فإن الشبكة الاجتماعية بين الشباب لن تعمل جيدًا، ولكن المصريين استمروا في الهتاف والغناء بصورة سلمية.

Today the curtain has been lifted on Egypt, it has flipped the ‘internet switch’ and rejoined the conversation with the rest of the world. But the scenes which have filled our Facebook pages and Twitter feeds are of violence and snipers on rooftops.

اليوم وقد رُفِعَ الستار عن مصر، حيث ضغطوا على “زر الإنترنت” مرة أخرى فعادت مصر إلى دائرة الحوار مع باقي العالم، إلا أننا وجدنا المشاهد التي ملأت صفحات شبكة فيسبوك وكذلك تدوينات تويتر تعبر عن العنف وتمركز القناصة على أسطح البنايات.

With today’s violence I fear that the legitimate and peaceful energy of the protests will be lost in the usual haze of conspiracy and subplots. While the Pharoah complex, which like the shadows of the Pyramids has been a constant in Egyptian political rule, seemed yesterday to have been dismantled (see Meedani Riham Ibrahim’s insightful Guardian piece on this), today was evidence that the bargain offered, elections in six months time and Egypt’s first VP, was not open for negotiation. I am very worried for Egypt, very worried for friends and colleagues who range from the front lines of the protest to high positions in the civil service to leaders of businesses.

فمع نشوب العنف اليوم، تخوفت من أن تفقد الاحتجاجات طاقتها السلمية والمشروعة في خضم غموض المؤامرات والحبكات المتسترة. وفي نفس الوقت الذي بدأت فيه عقدة الفرعون في التفكك تدريجيًّا، وهي العقدة التي انعكست على الحياة السياسية للمصريين كما تنعكس ظلال الأهرامات الراسخة (يمكنكم الإطلاع على المقالة المتميزة لكاتبة ميدان ريهام إبراهيم بالغارديان حول هذا الموضوع)، أصبح ما يحدث اليوم دليلاً على أن الصفقة المطروحة، حول إجراء الانتخابات في غضون الأشهر الستة القادمة بالإضافة إلى تعيين أول نائب للرئيس المصري، لم تكن أبدًا مطروحة للنقاش أو التفاوض. أشعر بالقلق الشديد على مستقبل مصر، كما أشعر بالقلق الشديد

على أصدقائي وزملائي المصريين، ومنهم من يوجد الآن في الصفوف الأمامية للاحتجاجات، ومن يشغل المناصب العليا في قطاع الخدمة المدنية، بل ومنهم كذلك رجال أعمال رائدون في مجاله

The days ahead will be critical and we are committed to using Meedan’s resources to tell stories from Egypt with your help – stories which may include first hand accounts of struggles on the streets and also voices critical of the protests and the protesters. You can join us by curating and translating tweets on curated.by , gathering and translating commentary from the region’s press and blogosphere on news.meedan.net, or translating voice recordings on YouTube and Blog . We are also providing translated commentaries for the Economist and Huffington Post. Our hope is that taken together our work might provide a better view of the history that is unfolding in front of our eyes.

إن الأيام القادمة سوف تكون مصيرية، ونحن ملتزمون جميعًا باستخدام كافة مصادر “ميدان” لعرض الأخبار المختلفة من مصر بمساعدتكم – تلك الأخبار قد تتضمن روايات مباشرة حول الاحتجاجات والمواجهات في الشوارع وكذلك أصوات أخرى مناوئة للاحتجاجات وللمتظاهرين. فيمكنكم الانضمام إلينا ومساعدتنا من خلال إضافة تدوينات تويتر وترجمتها على موقع كيوريتد دوت باي ، أو من خلال جمع وترجمة التعليقات من الصحف الإقليمية والمدونات ونشرها على موقع ميدان دوت نت، بالإضافة إلى أنه يمكنكم كذلك تقديم يد العون من خلال التسجيلات الصوتية المنشورة على يو تيوبومدونة ميدان . كما أننا نقوم بتوفير تعليقاتٍ مترجمةٍ من الإيكونوميست وهافنغتون بوست. إن أملنا يتركز في أن نعمل سويًّا لتقديم رؤية أفضل للتاريخ الذي يسطر أمام أعيننا جميعًا.

 
One effort that deserves special mention- in light of the internet outage- Google and Twitter set up a phone to twitter service called @speak2tweet. In a stunning display of quick moving engineering and translation energy, within 18 hours of the first tweet about this from my good friend Habib Haddad and my intro to the amazing Aaron Huslege there was a skype chat with a dozen engineers cranking it out. Baghdad Brian and a couple of hundred translators on a mission created a modern miracle of distributed labor, see http://egypt.alive.in for a view of that work. Also thanks to @johnnydiggz and the Geeks WithOut Boundaries-GWOB- team for setting up a parallel service).

إلا أن أحد الجهود التي تستحق أن تُذكر على وجه الخصوص -وفي ظل انقطاع خدمة الإنترنت عن مصر سابقًا- أن شركة جوجل وموقع تويتر أطلقا خدمة الاتصال تليفونيًّا بتويتر(@سبيك تو توييت). فيا له من تحركٍ مذهلٍ لهندسة وطاقة الترجمة، حيث جاءت أول تدوينة من صديقي العزيز حبيب حداد في غضون 18 ساعة، وكانت مقدمتي مع ايرون هاسليغ الرائع هناك من خلال محادثةٍ عبر سكايب مع العديد من المهندسين العاملين عليها. كما قام راين كونلى (المعروف ببغداد براين) ومئات من المترجمين بمهمةٍ أسفرت عن حدوث معجزةٍ عصريةٍ من العمل الموزع، ويمكنكم الإطلاع على هذا المجهود عبر موقع إيجبت دوت ألايف دوت آي إن . كما أنني اتقدم بالشكر لجوني ديجز وفريق ذا جيجز ويزأوت بونداريز لقيامهم جميعاً بخدمات موازية لتلك

 

 

Sidi gaber, Alexandria, photo by Al Jazeera English released under Creative Commons BY ND

 
Of course this is all in the context of the incredible, inspiring, and complex reality of what is happening between Egypt and her people right now. While our attention and concern over these coming critical days is first for the safety of the families of our Meedan colleagues in Egypt- Ahmed, Ghaydaa, Aya, Amena, John, Nouran, Riham, Wesam, Ahmed, Simba, Yaser, and Hanan – I am inclined to close this letter with my thoughts on the meaning of new media in the context of these unprecedented past ten days.

وبالطبع يأتي هذا كله في سياق الحقيقة المذهلة والمُلهِمة والمركبة لما يحدث فيما بين مصر وشعبها الآن، حيث أنه وفي حين أن اهتمامنا وقلقنا ينصب في تلك الأيام الحرجة القادمة على سلامة أسر زملائنا الميدانيين المقيمين في مصر وهم: أحمد، غيداء، آية، أمينة، جون، نوران، ريهام، وسام، أحمد، سيمبا، ياسر وحنان، فأنا أميل إلى إنهاء خطابي هذا ببضعة أفكار تدور حول معنى الإعلام الجديد في سياق الأيام العشرة السابقة والتي تعد غير مسبوقة في التاريخ المصري.

 
The lesson of Egypt is that the tools themselves are not as significant as the changed role of the individual in society that they reflect.

إن الدرس المستفاد من أحداث مصر هو أن الأدوات نفسها ليست بنفس أهمية الدور المتغير للفرد في المجتمع الذي تعكسه هذه الأدوات.
It took the unbelievable act of closing an entire country’s access to knowledge and communication to teach us that the power of new media is not found in Google’s algorithm’s or Twitter’s feeds or Facebook’s walls – it is more fundamental than the platforms, more fundamental than the internet itself. The power of new media is ‘lower in the stack’- to invoke a geek metaphor- it is in the recognition that we the digital generation have come to regard society itself as a read/write medium. We are all authors now, and the privilege to collaborate and revise is not simply a web protocol, not simply a human right, rather, it has become a human attribute.

لقد تعلمنا من خلال انقطاع أجهزة التواصل والمعلومات عن البلاد أن قوة الإعلام الجديد لا تُستمد من الحلول الحسابية التابعة لجوجل أو التعليقات على موقع تويتر أو الرسائل على الفيسبوك، بل هي أكثر رسوخًا من هذه المنصات ومن شبكة المعلومات نفسها. إن قوة الإعلام الجديد تأتي من المستويات القاعدية، وتُستمد من الاعتراف بأن الجيل الرقمي بات ينظر إلى المجتمع على أنه وسط يستطيع من خلاله قراءة وكتابة الأحداث. كلنا كُتاَّب الآن، ولعلنا تعلمنا بأن شرف التعاون والمراجعة لا يقتصر على كونه بروتوكول لشبكة المعلومات أو حق إنساني، بل هو سمة إنسانية بامتياز.
Ed Bice
Meedan

إد بايس

 

Meedan Tahrir, photo by Al Jazeera English released under Creative Commons BY ND