Blown To Bits

Virtual Meetings Where Real Meetings Are Banned

Monday, January 26th, 2009 by Harry Lewis

Most people still think of Facebook as connecting friends, or perhaps “friends” in the technical sense that’s rather less committed than real friendship. It’s possible that Mark Zuckerberg anticipated that proceeding from that foundation, Facebook would become the worldwide phenomenon that it has. But could he possibly have imagined that it would be a major vehicle for political organizing in countries where unauthorized political organizing is banned?

In Egypt, as the New York Times reports, you can’t assemble more than 5 people without a government permit. And yet there are many Facebook groups for political factions, both liberal and radically Islamist. These groups are used to organize flesh-and-blood protests, as well as for the exchange of news and ideas. It’s exactly what the government doesn’t want to happen, and what it long was able to control through laws outlawing political assembly. But it can’t block Facebook — the site is part of the daily, non-political life of too many people. So it has become an important political platform — every bit as much as the printing press was in the 18th century in the US and France.

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