Egypt’s Google Dude Illustrates the Weakness of Twitter Revolts

For those interested in all things related to the Arab Spring and particularly the uprising in Egypt, Wael Ghonim, Egypt’s Google dude, responded to questions related to his new book Revolution 2.0 during a recent NPR interview.  Ghonim’s interview and likely his book echo many of my concerns from last year (here and here) and reinforce many of assertions of Malcolm Gladwell’s arguments for why the next revolution won’t be retweeted.  A more appropriate title for his book is probably “Uprising 2.0” as the Facebook/Twitter enabled inspirational uprisings initiating the Arab Spring have proven uneven in their revolutionary results – especially in Egypt.

Ghonim, a business and marketing major in college, wasted no time in churning out his book.  However, Ghonim has not proven to be what many had hoped: a viable, young leader bringing democratic change to Egypt. I admire Ghonim’s efforts in leading the Facebook uprising, but even he admits that good virtual leaders don’t necessarily correlate into great physical leaders of rebellion.  Ghonim reads a passage from his book noting:

 “I’m not a people person, I’d rather communicate with people online…in short, I’m a real life introvert and yet an Internet extravert.”

I really like this discussion and admire Ghonim for admitting his own limitations.

Ghonim also illustrated two of the crucial weakness of the Twitter uprisings seen across the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movements.  First, the reluctance by the Facebook generation to collaboratively and physically discuss, compete and compromise as a organization around a central agenda and stated long-run objectives.  Twitter and Facebook were excellent in achieving the immediate objective of an uprising – a critical first step in a revolution.  Consistent with crowdsourcing theories, Ghonim and his compatriots used Twitter and Facebook to solve a coordination problem: show up at this location, for this reason and do this act.  However, this uprising fell flat after the fall of Mubarak as the Facebook revolutionaries failed to organize collectively and physically to devise a longer run strategy with deliberate objectives.  The Facebook revolutionaries could have done this, but chose to return to their laptops and cellphones in hopes the change they wanted would materialize through their Internet connections.

The second glaring weakness of the Twitter uprisings comes from the Facebook revolutionaries outright aversion to developing, appointing and following leaders.  Ghonim states in the NPR interview:

“This revolution has no leader, has no face to it, and the collective effort of all the Egyptians is what matters at the end of the day”

I assume living under an oppressive dictatorship would make one loath leadership in general.  However, both the Occupy Movement and in many cases the Arab Spring have rejected the notion of leaders to their own demise.  Notions of leaderless movements are the rage on social media platforms and corporate America loves talking about flat organizations.  But, those structures work well only in certain situations where motivations and values are shared equally amongst the organization’s members and objectives are clearly defined.  Revolutions are conflicts and during the fog of war, sustaining the organization’s values, the motivation of the troops and keeping actions in line with objectives requires leadership.  In the security vacuum created by Egypt’s horizontally organized Facebook uprising, physical-vertically structured organizations (e.g. Muslim Brotherhood) seized the initiative to pursue and achieve their collectively determined objectives.

I still hold hope and see value in the Facebook/Twitter uprisings of 2011.  But Wael Ghonim and his leaderless non-organization may have to change their approach if they want to realize the change they so relentlessly tweet about.

For the Ghonim’s audio interview, which is a good listen, click here.

And for a funny take on the leadership vacuum of the Occupy Movement, I highly recommend this Stephen Colbert clip.

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