Widening the exposure of change and protest

It’s clear that the internet and social media have played a part in recent events in Egypt and in Bahrain.

Most of the coverage I’ve seen on mainstream media uses content from protesters and others as source material, subsequently reinterpreted by journalists.  In other words, the content being generated in the social media sphere is an ‘output’ and results from what is happening.  The question is whether such content is also being an ‘input'; and is being used by protestors and other observers (for example you or me) watching the #egypt or #bahrain hashtags on Twitter to follow, communicate and perhaps shape events.

Three observations, and then some discussion:

  • The dispersed nature of the leadership of the protests in Egypt made it very difficult for the centralised leadership of Mubarak to respond and control events;
  • The visibility of events in Egypt to the wider world (often unmediated by mainstream media) and the use of the internet and mobile devices in realtime to communicate and, presumably, organise made a big impact.  Compare the cases of Egypt and Bahrain with the terrible events in Libya over the past 24 hours; and,
  • It is probably not going to be possible to distinguish between the extent to which we are seeing the impact of ‘influence’  versus ‘homophily’ (sometimes called ‘flocking’) in network behaviour.  Remember this when you hear the term ‘Facebook Revolution’.

“Tweetin’ bout a Revolution”

Have a look at this:
It shows an analysis of trends on Twitter of certain recent country names over the past 90 days. That’s all. But the implications are worth considering.

The compelling discussion at the “FIRST WEDNESDAY SPECIAL: Egypt – what happens now?” at the Frontline Club and the insights of the panel in London and Cairo (via Skype) set me thinking about whether the changes in Egypt will persist and what the impact on the rest of the region might be.

During the event (which I livetweeted alongside the tweets of the indefatigable Julie Tomlin), Alan Patrick tweeted a link to his post “Talkin ’bout a Revolution” where he has begun to analyse what he describes as the “Revolutionary Media Ecosystem” together with some of the implications. Yesterday and today, largely because my sister is in Bahrain (she’s a teacher), I’ve been glued to the #Bahrain hashtag on Twitter and looking at Sky News and the Al Jazeera English service. Most of the media coverage is way behind what I can find out in realtime for myself.  So I thought, could I use some of the social media analysis tools I know about to investigate and try to see the potential for links between what is happening in Egypt and what might happen in Bahrain?

Now look into the detail of period since 24 January, showing trend analysis for Egypt, Bahrain and Libya:

Examine the features of the Egypt trend timeline and think about the dates and what the various peaks relate to.  You can clearly see the ‘false alarm’ on February 10th when Mubarak agreed to ‘step down’ (but not until September) and the subsequent peak when he actually did.  Worth looking at the early part of the period too – especially where the trendline really begins to move on 28th January.   Now look at the Bahrain timeline (updated to 1000hrs UTC today).

Of course, it’s too early to draw conclusions on this – but collecting the data in realtime is something new.

Acknowledgments

Thanks to Trendistic for their trend tracking tool.

Particular thanks to the Frontline Club (of which I am a member).  Their First Wednesday series, directed by Julie Tomlin and brilliantly chaired by Paddy O’Connell always provides insight – particularly so last week.  You can see the video of the meeting here:

[Graphics updated 26 February to 1000 utc]