Monday, February 14, 2011

"Watch Facebook."

A couple of relevant tweets from Wael Ghonim's Twitter page.

Any meeting professional who has ever doubted the power of social networking should have had their doubts smashed this past Friday, when a popular revolution that began and spread via Facebook and Twitter toppled the regime of Egyptian president — excuse me, former president (!) — Hosni Mubarak.

I had been following the news from Egypt throughout the three-week uprising, mostly via the New York Times and CNN online.  But when ex-vice president Omar Suleiman announced on Friday that Mubarak had stepped down, turning the country over to the military, I wanted more than to read about the developments online: I wanted to see the Egyptian street erupting in real time, to see the faces of the jubilant masses who, against all odds, had achieved their democratic goal.

So what did I do?  I turned the TV on to CNN, and kept it on in the background while I worked throughout the day, so that I could hear the celebrations in Cairo.

Which brings to mind the reverse of what I wrote earlier: Any technology advocate who has ever doubted the power of face-to-face should have had their doubts smashed this past Friday, when people just like me from all over the world turned on their TVs to see, in real time, the Egyptian people celebrating their victory.

(Of course I don't have any proof of the latter, but I imagine that others had the same reaction I did: To want to see what was going on; to be a part of the scene in the most intimate way that they could.  It wasn't enough to just read about it online.)

At any rate, while I had CNN on in the background, I heard an interview with Wael Ghonim, Google's head of marketing for the Middle East and North Africa, who, in the early days of the uprising, had started a Facebook page to rally and organize the anti-government protesters.  Ghonim then disappeared, kidnapped by Egyptian state security forces; he was held for two weeks before being released.

Towards the end of the interview, either Wolf Blitzer or Anderson Cooper (I forget who was conducting the phone interview) asked Ghonim where he thought the democratic impulse might strike next in the region.

"Watch Facebook," Ghonim said.

I can't think of a better endorsement for the power of social networking.  (Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg's got to feel good about this.)  And, if this technology can help topple an entrenched, three-decades-long dictatorship, surely it can prove useful and powerful for your meetings and events!

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