Wael Ghonim “Cyberoptimist”

anatomy-1751201_960_720Wael Ghonim, an Egyptian cyberactivist who participated in the uprisings of the Arab Spring in his country, was one of the speakers who participated last December in the TEDGlobal talks with a speech entitled “Let’s design social media to promote a real change.” In his talk, Ghonim makes an interesting reflection, based on his personal experience about the effects and evolution of actions promoted over the Internet and social media. This action adds to a list of previous papers that addresses the issue of power of social media, and is closely related in particular to the presentation given by the academic Clay Shirky in June 2009 about the power of news reporting through social networks by citizens in repressive regimes. The diffusion of the Internet May Have a palpable bearing on civic participation (Morozov, 2011).

In the TED talk given by Wael Ghonim, it is interesting to see how this activist, who initially manifested himself in a ciberoptimist attitude about the possibilities of Internet and social networks to change a social and political reality- a fact that can also be seen in his previous TED statement from 2011- has transformed his speech, following his experience to encourage more thoughtful behavior online. Ghonim’s criticism focuses on the Internet polarization and in five critical challenges that must be overcome to reformulate the current ecosystem of social media.

The first one is related to the rumors, that is, the information spreads very quickly through social networks, and many users share, comment, went viral and believe that is truth without having been properly verified. This massive display has to do with another challenge that Ghonim proposes to overcome: the facility to convert online discussions into angry mobs. In connection with this reflection, we can not avoid Cass R. Sunstein mentioning and his work on the rumor, who has also studied on the Internet and linked to the spiral of silence.

The third challenge is the creation of our own echo chambers, a concept that also advances Sunstein itself in its work Republic.com 2.0. On the Internet, we are able not only to follow only those people who are related to our line of opinion, we can also, in a very easy way, ignore those who think differently, which favors us a great difficulty to change your mind , which is the fourth challenge assumed by Ghonim.

Finally, the activist points as a fifth challenge, and most importantly, the primacy of mass messages about the discussions. The importance of getting more hits -more retuits, the more I like it, more favorites- through a message or a striking photograph that use the Internet to convey deeper messages, that although fewer people reach at least cause a real reflection and discussion about the quality of its content.

As a proposal to begin to change this polarization in social media, Ghonim founded the Parlio platform that experimentally aims to promote discussion and exchange of views on such controversial issues as important to society.

This case, documented through a TED talk, is especially interesting to see how a clearly ciberoptimista attitude has evolved over four years towards a much more critical reflection on social media. Moreover, it is interesting to discover how the rapporteur has been able to nurture ideas or academic work that still pose interesting lines of research to advance the study of social media. Whilst a conspicuous reliance on internet activist applications for deliberation or consciousness-raising has already been highlighted (Castells 2009, 2012; Lievrouw, 2010).

Ghonim sentence his speech with the statement: “Five years ago I said: If you want to liberate a society, all you need is Internet. Today, I believe that if we want a free society, we first need to have free Internet “.

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