What’s more fearful than a man with no political allegiances and access to millions of your citizens? To corrupt governments other than nuclear arms, nothing. Khalid Albaih encapsulates the way of the future for many activist around the world. Where once newspapers and television were the mediums to sensor and control through money, social media is a platform that is difficult to manage without overt censorship and as such is the meeting place for views that governments constantly try to stifle. Particularly in the Arab Spring, platforms like Facebook and Twitter were firestorms for the likes of the Egyptian government because events and posts would pop up without warning and be views by millions before the government could have it removed. Unlike a piece of paper of television broadcasting, the power of the internet is that without a direct blocking of global signals or global websites it’s almost next to impossible to stop people from posting what they like. Khalid knew this and other activist knew this and they all used their knowledge to their advantage.
In Khalid’s experiences he understood that the success of using social media derived from the fact that this platform was the only true and honest source of information left in the public sphere. There was a sense of immediacy and pressure that arose with this use as if it was the only way. In that he articulated the difference in the United States is that we still have faith in other platforms. That is half of us wants to believe in the information we receive from the government, cnn, the new york times, and our representatives. Khalid asserted that this is a privilege, and for him, everyone, and their mother knew that no public source of information was credible in Sudan or in North Africa because they were all controlled by the government and money. However, in this problem of legitimacy also was this problem of saturation and quality. With the use of social media in places where their is no legitimacy elsewhere, places like Facebook have become awash with tid bits of information that are supposed to educate, excite, and produce action, but how are revolutionaries supposed to acquire and hold that attention. While social media is the last free outlet to produce information, how do you assert yourself in a sea of frankly bullshit. With over 500 million people joining Facebook in the last four years, Khalid and other activist of the Arab Spring are trying to continue their fire but amidst a large and less active crowd.
Overall, Khalid conveyed how the difference in social justice movements here versus movements back in the Sudan, North African, and the Middle East is that theirs are done in a last ditch effort. That is they are done as if there is nothing left because doing that action can be life or death. For Khalid, social media wasn’t just an evolution in spreading news to inform people, but it was a revolution in enacting change.
Political cartoonist, Khalid Albaih, employs the use of social media to express to spread revolutionary thought through nations with strict and oppressive censorship. Albaih views the internet and social media as a “visa,” which allows the oppressed to demonstrate the truth of their nations to the rest of the world and gain support in their respective revolutions. In many of these nations published newspapers are heavily censored by the repressive governments, and serve only as propaganda, not an actual account of the nation’s state. Albaih discussed the emergence of the Arab Spring Revolution, and how this was really the first large-scale revolution that arose over social media.
A key aspect of the start of the Arab Spring was the involvement of a young democratically aimed population. Young, and educated people employed social media tools, like Facebook, to connect and organize a revolution behind the back of their government. Since Egyptian leadership had little knowledge of social media they remained oblivious to the coming revolution and had difficulty quelling the extinguishing the uprising. Many repressive governments blame social media for the rebellions in the nations. Social media provides a space to organize and discuss revolutionary ideas; however, it is not the cause of these ideas and thus cannot take the blame. Ultimately it is the repressive governments that must assume the blame for revolutions since they serve as the entity that inflicts harsh rules, thus causing angst throughout their respective societies.
When asked if he thought the Arab Spring failed, Albaih remarked that real revolution takes time. The Arab Spring only started in 2010, and throughout history the biggest revolutions have occurred over decades and arguably centuries. The people in Egypt have been “broken” by living under an oppressive rule for a very long time, thus their revolution will need more than six years to reach an end. The Tunisian revolution was mentioned as an example of precipitous revolution. The difference between this revolution and the Arab spring is the Tunisia was already a very small and open-minded nation, which had systems in place that could be utilized once their tyrannical leadership fled. Since the nation is so small it also did not have a very active military to oppose the revolutionary citizens. Egypt on the other hand, has a much larger population with over 18 million citizens. The large nation has a very powerful army to control its citizens, and there are no systems in place to replace leadership once tyranny is expelled. Having a large population means that it is also more difficult to spread revolutionary idea throughout citizens, especially since more of the population is uneducated. While the people of Egypt still struggle to oppose oppressive leadership, social media still serves as an important tool in maintaining the revolution and involving other nations.
Albaih uses political cartoons instead of blogs or other writing since image can serve as a “universal language”. Humans have developed an extremely short attention span in regards to what they view on social media, and images work best to reach the largest variety to people the fastest. Images also have the power to show as opposed to tell. An image is more effective since its message relies on the interpretation of the audience. This can lead to many different interpretations of one image, some of which may not unveil the artist’s intent, but this also makes the message more personal for each looker since their conscious plays a role in the message. When someone is simply told something, he or she is more likely to become skeptical of the message depending on how much they trust their source. The audience of something told also plays no role in the message itself, thus it means less to each member and is less likely to incite change.