February 08, 2011

One More Tweet Before I Die

No one ever thinks they will get killed for using Twitter. Or beaten for taking a photograph. Or arrested for making a video. Or for making a sign critical of the government. But apparently such things have been happening in Egypt. According to Human Rights Watch, about 300 people have been killed since the anti-government uprising began two weeks ago. It’s hard to say for sure how many have been arrested or “disappeared.” One thing is for certain, it’s an all-out technology war with one side using internet tools as a means of expression and the other side using them as a means of oppression.

It’s a surreal world of extremes where the army is guarding the protesters from the police and nobody quite knows what is going on. With thousands of people using social networking tools — Twitter, Facebook, email, IM’s, texting, etc., there is an overload of information streaming in and out and it’s hard to follow who is doing what. In an odd new development, a Google executive named Wael Ghonim has now become an unexpected celebrity after being jailed for 12 days. He is also thought to be the anonymous activist that created the Facebook page first calling for the Jan. 25 protest. This all makes for a revolution mash-up where high-tech gadgets and web-savvy individuals have somehow managed to get the attention other uprisings have only dreamed of.

However, as the demonstrations continue, things are getting even weirder, as rawstory reports:

from: https://www.facebook.com/find.wael.ghonim?ref=ts

Many protesters carried the symbols of the Internet social networks Facebook and Twitter, which have become vital mobilising tools for the opposition thanks to online campaigners like Google executive Wael Ghonim.

“I like to call it the Facebook Revolution but after seeing the people right now, I would say this is the Egyptian people’s revolution. It’s amazing,” he said, after he was mobbed by adoring supporters in the crowd.

As the Google executive has become a rallying point and people are feeling as if they are making progress, there is an ominous thing happening. Police are tracking and locating social media users by their ip addresses and then their street addresses. I guess it was only a matter of time before the Egyptian government started showing up on doorsteps and beating the hell out of people they discovered were using Twitter. All they had to do was get the service providers to cough up their names and user IDs and then they could “lock and load,” as Sarah Palin puts it. Most people, after all, use their real names on Facebook. Hell, most people list their real birthdays too, and as cool as it was to conduct a revolution using social networking tools, a backlash was inevitable. What one hand giveth the other hand taketh away.

Comments (2)

  • Chris Cobb says:

    For what it’s worth, photography is a very complex field and photographs tend to fulfill completely different obligations depending on their context. An art photograph is related to a documentary photograph and they are both related to home videos or polaroid instant pictures. Like the written word, they are all expressions of something. Just like a single word like “yes” or “no” can have tremendous meaning in our lives, a simple image of something can also have great power.

  • I cannot pretend to assume there is any surprise in the power that a citizen journalist photograph possesses. The picture that comes from a person present, with the electronics, is hardly associated with the photographer’s name to the people who see and share that picture from the place where the revolution is or is not happening. And while the cops can still track these citizen journalists down, I wonder what is happening to our shift in expectation from this unofficial photographer?

    Considering the rapid democratization of photography, I would disagree that “No one ever thinks they will get killed for using Twitter. Or beaten for taking a photograph.” I’m constantly trying to specify photography and overwhelmed by thoughts of the capital P photographers all over the world who are suspect to authorities. There are those censored as embeds, moneyed with guards and translators, or in terrible danger as a native and a reporter in the war zone. And since fast exposure of an event trumps professional skills, why should we not think citizen journalists are sharing the risks of all the people who call themselves photographers?

    For the sake of comparison, what about a photograph hanging in a museum–is that less risky? I think about how the Culture Wars to Hide/Seek have shown queer artists getting “beaten.” Can we splice how we perceive a harmless and then a significant photo? I’m thinking now of the mother in Yerba Buena Gardens, who I saw yesterday taking a picture on her iphone of her kid playing with the water in the fountain, both looking like they were about to fall in.

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