Thursday, February 17, 2011

Good News from Egypt: “Less than 1,000 People Died”

“Eighty-five million people live in Egypt and less than 1,000 people died in this revolution,” said Wael Ghonim, according to Monday’s New York Times. Ghonim, a 31 year old Google executive, is credited with a key role in the on-line social media campaign that helped topple Hosni Mubarak last week.

Gauging the grief of 1000 families as good news is a legitimate political-economic calculation. But it underscores the seriousness of the business Ghonim and his colleagues have undertaken. More broadly the calculation underscores the seriousness of the business of belief which is at the heart of media in all forms.

The wave of change in North Africa and the Mideast is a story about media as well as about politics. As the story of mass protest in Tunisia broke in the U.S (a month after it Al Jazeera started covering it nightly), it was played as another Facebook story.  Your humble blogger has opined before about the value of viewing today’s shifts in media through political-economic lenses rather than peering at the phenomenon, one-eyed, through an economic monocle.

Our trade, in media, is moving minds. Political-economic exchange rates render all costs and benefits “fungible” or inter-changeable. Political-economics fundamentally concerns the interaction of destructive forces, productive forces and the motivating factor of belief. Thus media is central to political-economics.

In Egypt, a full spectrum of communications, from “eye catching posters” to Facebook groups, deployed by anti Mubarak forces and major news outlets, mobilized masses of Egyptians to create the experience and spectacle of protest events. This sudden recognition of the possibility of change was achieved with limited expenditures of productive or destructive force, and was critical in precipitating Mubarak’s ouster.

The works of Gene Sharp reportedly influenced the communication strategies of the leading anti-Mubarak groups according to the New York Times. Sharp, an advocate of non-violent strategies and tactics to promote freedom and democracy writes that “the means do exist for populations to free themselves” but that members of an oppressed population must first recognize of their own real power to contribute to collective action.

At our best, in media, we are empowering people with good information. Officially, “you can make money without doing evil” is proclaimed by Mr. Ghonim’s employer, Google, as one of Ten Things We Know. The unofficial “Do no evil” is more direct but still seems timid. "Do good" seems more to the point. That's why your humble blogger has always seriously endeavored to turn good information into good business.

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Anonymous Mike Warren said...

It is good to know that it is less than 1,000 who died in the revolution.

January 30, 2012 at 5:44 AM  

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