On June 6, 2010 Khaled Mohamed Said was viciously murdered by two plain-clothed policemen in Egypt. He had been sitting on the second floor of a cybercafé in Alexandria, when two detectives entered the premises, dragged him out and killed him on the spot.
The officers claimed that he was a drug dealer who died after choking on a packet of drugs he swallowed when he saw the policemen approach. This claim was met with derision when photographs of Khaled’s corpse were released on the internet by his brother, showing Khaled’s deformed face, fractured skull, dislocated jaw and various other signs of a brutal death.
The pictures went viral, causing huge public outcry, contributing to the growing outrage in the weeks leading up to the Egyptian Revolution of January 2011.
A Facebook page called “We are all Khaled Muhammad Said” was created by Wael Ghonim (then Head of Marketing, Google Middle East), and the page became the centre for the dissenters’ online discussions, attracting thousands of supporters, thus becoming Egypt’s biggest dissidents’ Facebook page ever.
Khaled’s example is only one of the many cases where social media served as a platform to unite people for a cause. On January 18, 2011 a week before the start of the Egyptian Revolution, Asmaa Mahfouz, a young Egyptian activist, posted a video on Facebook calling on all Egyptians to demand their social rights and to raise their voices against the oppressive dictator Hosni Mubarak.
The video was uploaded on YouTube and went viral. Buoyed by Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution, the Egyptians gathered en masse on 25 January 2011, and the turnout culminated into an 18-day uprising, which eventually toppled Hosni Mubarak.
The massive campaigns on social media played a tremendous role in the Egyptian revolution, which is why it is often dubbed as “The Social Media Revolution” or “Facebook Revolution” by social media pundits.
Rebukes and retaliations
Recent surveys show a remarkable rise in the usage of the internet in Pakistan. In 2012, the number of Pakistani users on Facebook rose sharply, crossing the eight million mark.
A survey conducted by SocialBakers discovered that users generally fall within the age bracket of 18 to 24, making Facebook the hub for information and online discussions for a large number of Pakistani youth.
Having said that, social media has also been banned on several occasions in Pakistan – most prominent being the banning of Facebook in 2010.
For those who do not know, on April 14 2010, the 200th episode of South Park (an American television show) depicted Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The depiction of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is explicitly forbidden in Islam. Muslims began protesting against the creators of the show, cartoonists Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and the show was subsequently censored by its distributor Comedy Central for security reasons.
In response to the censorship and death threats, an American cartoonist Molly Norris announced on a radio show that she intends to organise a cartoon drawing event called “Muhammad Day” Subsequently, a page was created on Facebook by John Wellington named “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day”, that pulled together 100,000 participants (101,870 members by May 20 – the day the event was scheduled to held).
This further fuelled the growing outrage among the Muslim communities, and as a result a protest page against the initiative was created, “Against ‘Everybody Draw Mohammed Day’”.
This page also attracted tens of thousands of supporters (106,000 by May 20). The huge public outcry in Pakistan compelled the authorities to block Facebook (which was a temporary block) and the ban was only countermanded after Facebook agreed to block the page for users in Pakistan.
Social media activism in Pakistan
The year 2011 witnessed the growing power of social media activism in Pakistan. Ahmed Macdi, a student of Defence Authority Public School Karachi went missing on July 22, 2011 and was later found dead, murdered by his own classmate Abu Bakar.
A peace walk, in protest of the murder, was organised on the Facebook page named “In the Loving Memory of Ahmed Macdi” by Macdi’s friends and supporters. Social media served as a tool for the friends of Ahmed Macdi to engender support among the members of civil society and stir them into action.
It marked the beginning of social media activism in Pakistan, growing ever more pronounced in the year 2012.
The attack on 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai on October 09, 2012 triggered public outrage. Malala, a student in Swat, was shot in the neck by Taliban gunmen.
She is said to have written a blog for the BBC in which she described her ordeal and life under the Taliban. Although there are many controversies surrounding Malala, the role of social media after this incident was overwhelming.
Activists gathered on Facebook and Twitter to voice their hatred for the Taliban and to show solidarity with Malala. At the time of writing of this article, 48,982 people are talking about Malala on Facebook and around 127,410 people have joined the page named after her.
In earlier days, leaflets and posters were used extensively by revolutionaries and propagandists alike to garner support from the masses.
With the advent of social media, the tools have changed.