No wonder “The Social Network” was such a hit film, nominated for eight Oscars and taking home three. If the Academy’s panel of judges was made up of Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans, Yemenis or Palestinians, the movie would have definitely won Best Picture.
The film, chronicling the humble but inventive beginnings of Facebook tells the story of how one very intelligent Harvard student took the idea of social networking to a whole new level, changing the face of the internet forever. However, even Mark Zuckerburg, the young genius who invented Facebook could not have envisioned the revolutionary changes to which his social network gave life.
The effects of Facebook and other means of networking have been obvious in places like Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. We have all heard the stories of anonymous Facebook users who set up pages calling for a revolution. During the early days of Egypt’s revolution, ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s authorities cut internet connections in the country in a bid to halt the endless stream of messaging and posting that was bringing people to the streets in opposition to his 30-year regime.
The effect has not been lost on Palestine either. Groups have been popping up on Palestinian networks right and left ranging from calling on people to rally in solidarity with Arab peoples determined on toppling their regimes, to calls for the toppling of our own leaderships. In Gaza, almost simultaneously, groups appeared on Facebook both in favor of and opposed to the de facto Hamas government there, one calling for its demise and the other calling for its support.
In the West Bank, fortunately, Facebook has been mostly utilized to rally people around a common demand –” Palestinian reconciliation. Thousands of people have taken to the streets over the past few weeks calling on leaders to set aside their differences and unite. The general mood of the Arab street has rubbed off on the Palestinians, the sense that people’s power can move mountains.
Even the leadership has taken note. Last week, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad posted questions to the public on his Facebook page asking fans to suggest candidates for new government posts. Two days ago, Fayyad posted an initiative for ending the split in which he outlines ways of reconciling with Gaza and moving towards a more cohesive and unified Palestinian front.
The move is obviously a way of catering to the people’s demands, something the Arab world’s dictators learned the hard way. The Palestinian leadership is now acutely aware of the fact that a certain nail in any government’s coffin is being disconnected from its people. Vast social networks such as Facebook leave little excuse for any honest and willing government to allow this to happen. Western educated leaders such as Fayyad well understand the importance of the new age of technology and how powerful a tool it can be. Blogging, social networking, instant messaging and “tweeting” can rally millions around or against a cause and obviously, bring down whole regimes. The Palestinian people have also realized how powerful a tool these networks are. Groups have been created for Jerusalem’s youths to combat social problems such as drug abuse and school dropout rates, artists who encourage Palestinians to broaden their cultural horizons and refugees who reunite across borders and barbed wires in the vast world of cyberspace to learn more about their lost homeland.
The changes in the Arab world have shown us just what Facebook can do. It is no longer just to view your friends’ pictures, post mood statuses or play games. Facebook has become the rebel yell of oppressed peoples and the face of changes so amazing we are all still dumbfounded with awe.