In what is perhaps the most telling sign that Egyptian youth are utilizing online networks to express themselves, social media such as Facebook and Twitter played huge roles in mobilizing students to support the workers strike in late October.
Students and supporters used these websites to cover the strike by sharing images and videos on a group created on Facebook called ‘AUC Students for Workers’ Rights’, and also through regular updates on Twitter.
Students on Twitter and Facebook not only supported the workers’ cause but also created a portal for local and international media to events happening on campus.
According to Islam Shabana, an art junior and the creator of the “AUC Students for Workers’ Rights” group on Facebook, there are two main reasons for creating the group.
He first wanted raise awareness among the AUC community, and then gain media attention.
The group administrators were approached by many TV stations as well as print media.
Salma Hegab, a CMA major who is one of the administrators of the Facebook group created by Shabana, told The Caravan that she was approached by the producer of “Baladna BelMasry”, a program aired on ONTV, to share her coverage of the staff protests with his program.
She says workers accessed the Internet and printed out what students wrote online.
The workers, as a result, felt a sense of pride that students were supporting their cause, she says.
Ahmed Mahmoud, a political science major who used Twitter as a medium during the strike, believes that social media helped students “deliver their voices” to the outside world as well as within the AUC community.
“I do believe that we can actually make a difference and change things around us, but that depends on how brave the youth is,” he said.
But in a country where literacy rates are low and not everyone has access to a computer, is social media really the instrument of change?
“In a country like Egypt, where illiteracy rates are high, such computer-based communication is by default exclusive to a small percentage of the society,” said Sarah El Sirgany, the Deputy Editor of Daily News Egypt.
“For example, mass mobilization through social media alone is out of the question. Social media can only reflect what is in the real world.”
There have been concerns raised in the media that despite the speed and efficacy of social media, issues of accuracy and objectivity remain an issue.
On October 31 as the administration met with staff representatives to hammer out a deal, some TV stations reported based on news gleaned from Twitter that university officials had accepted all demands and apologized to custodial workers.
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Furthermore, Shabana says there were discrepancies between stories published in AlMasry AlYoum and Al Youm Al Sabe newspapers creating different versions that were circulated by students.
For the time being, however, social media has offered activists and human rights advocates another means to raise awareness of socio-economic hardships in Egypt.