By Alaa Abd El Fattah
The Current Discussion: Egypt has detained a number of its citizens for using the social networking site Facebook to organize anti-government protests. What online sites are most effective in influencing politics -- and is the impact positive?
Until two years ago that would have been the Egyptian Blogs Aggregator (shameless plug here, since I created the Aggregator.)
It created a space where hundreds of Egyptians from different social and political backgrounds came together, fostered conversation and debate among bloggers and made it easier for activists and journalists to follow trends and news on blogs.
Through the aggregator, blogs were used to recruit for and engage with the pro-democracy movement Kefaya, to organize protests, strikes and sit-ins. The aggregator became a platform for various ambitious campaigns, from election monitoring to a broad anti-torture movement.
Although it’s still popular, today the aggregator is not as relevant. This is mainly due to the exponential rise in the number of Egyptian blogs; no one can keep up with them all anymore. But blogs are still at the heart of Egyptian cyber-activism, and citizen journalism through blogs remains the one consistently free source of information available.
Today the most effective political Web site would be YouTube. With the pervasiveness of mobile phone cameras, it is rare to hear of a human rights violation, a political event or a major incident that isn't accompanied with a mobile phone video published on YouTube.
Videos documenting police brutality in the streets and leaked videos of torture inside police stations published on YouTube were at the core of a strong anti-torture campaign and were effectively used as evidence in court. For the first time in Egyptian history, a powerful, well-connected police officer was sentenced for torturing a poor citizen. There are currently various similar cases, all centered around leaked video evidence. We now know that these videos had already reached several journalists, but they didn't dare broadcast them.
Most recently, when the industrial town of Mahalla was under press embargo as Egyptian security forces stormed town in an attempt to break an industrial strike and a political protest by force, killing at least three citizens and injuring dozens (not to mention the arrests), I counted over 60 videos of street violence in Mahalla published on YouTube. While some of the footage made it onto al-Jazeera and the BBC, the video of angry protesters tearing down a huge poster of president Mubarak can only be seen on YouTube.
But YouTube is not limited to mobile phone footage. Activists now regularly produce documentaries and interviews, and even art and humor, from the slick anti-Mubarak songs of Ahmad Sherif to funky satirical video ridiculing the government’s latest propaganda campaigns.
YouTube's effectiveness doesn't just lie in the easy ability to publish video but also the fact that it comes with its own enormous audience. Most people don't go around looking for police brutality videos, but with YouTube, they often stumble upon them.
Alaa Abd El Fattah is an Egyptian blogger, software developer, and democracy activist. Read his writings at manalaa.net.
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