Yes, It Is Bread We Fight For, But We Fight for Facebook Too


In the wake of Egypt's fizzled "Facebook Youth" strike—it had been scheduled for April 6, the first anniversary of an uprising in the textile town of Mahalla al-Kobra—Marc Lynch has some thoughts on the drawbacks of that particular medium in that particular context:

I have a hard time thinking of a communications technology more poorly suited for organizing high-risk political collective action than Facebook. Joining a group is perhaps the lowest-cost political activity imaginable, involving none of the commitment and dedication necessary to go out to a protest—to say nothing of engaging in the hard work of organizing required for real political activity. For all their faults, the bloggers of Kefaya were already committed and often experienced political activists ready to pay a certain degree of costs for their activities. But people who joined Facebook groups? Not so much. Marginally raising the costs of participation, as authoritarian governments can easily do by selectively repressing a few members or beating up some protestors[, can scare such members away.] Its public nature makes it easy for the authorities to identify leaders to repress, or for provocateurs or spies to join up and see what's in the works. And finally, Facebook—with its brief Twittery status updates and forum-ish discussion threads—offers less of the 'public sphere' potential of blogs.

All true. That said, there's another, more prosaic reason Egyptian dissidents weren't able to replicate last year's Facebook-free rebellion. That revolt was basically a bread riot. And as the German Press Agency reports, in the year since then

the price of wheat—of which Egypt imports 7.5 million tonnes a year, more than any other country in the world—has dropped more than 57 per cent. Last week, Egypt's Ministry of Social Solidarity said the country had 2 million ton of grain stored, enough to last the country four months.

In other words, well-fed college kids were unwilling to take the same risks as hungry people with little to lose. That would have been true even if they'd organized themselves through channels more appropriate than Facebook and Twitter.