Can social networking incite change?

YouTube - EGYPT Mubarak orders Internet & Phones ShutdownThe last nineteen days have heralded historic change and news organizations around the world are either strongly or subtly crediting Wael Ghonim’s Facebook page as the coalescing and driving force that led to the resignation of Hosni Mumbarak Egypt’s President and Dictator for the last 30 years. In some ways, Mumbarak’s January 28th order to shut down the internet in Egypt helps to fuel this argument.

PARIS (AFP) – The scale of Egypt’s crackdown on the Internet and mobile phones amid deadly protests against the rule of President Hosni Mubarak is unprecedented in the history of the web, experts said…

…Julien Coulon, co-founder of Cedexis, a French Internet performance monitoring and traffic management system, added: “In 24 hours we have lost 97 percent of Egyptian Internet traffic.

by Katia Dolmadjian Sat Jan 29, 12:05 pm ET

With almost 24 hours now since this world changing news broke, some arguments are now centering around each side like Malcolm Gladwell’s dismissal and Micah Sifry’s balanced opinion on CNN. From a personal observation, (and one sitting well outside the center of events) social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter did have a tremendous impact on the exchange and access to almost real-time, real-life, real-person events and interactions that were happening halfway around the world. They were also a starting point for diving into more and more information on dedicated news sites like the BBC, CNN, and Aljazeera. When the news broke, CNN even started a dedicated webpage that pulled together their reporter tweets and began almost live updates to the lead story including: twitter messages, reporter feeds, and iReports which are citizen journalist uploaded photos, videos, and stories (listed as iReporter: individuals name and the story or information that was uploaded from around the world:

[Update 8:48 p.m. in Cairo, 1:48 p.m. ET] CNN iReporters are sending descriptions, images and video from Egypt. It looks like a combination of New Year’s Eve in Times Square and Mardi Gras in New Orleans.In Alexandria, iReporter Fady captured video of celebratory fireworks being shot off.

iReporter Abdel-Maguid Ramzy, a professor at Cairo University Medical School, shot video of people prayingand celebrating near the presidential palace in Heliopolis on Friday evening. “It’s a very special moment for us,” he said. “We didn’t know that it was going to happen that fast.”

Egyptians aren’t alone – people around the world are celebrating. iReporter Jason Antos of New York City says people watched the developments in Egyptian-owned businesses and poured out into the street to celebrate after the annoucement Mubarak would step down. He says police allowed people to demonstrate in the streets for a little while.

In Cairo, iReporter Omar Sultan sent in video of people celebrating near the presidential palace.

[Update 7:21 p.m. in Cairo, 12:21 p.m. ET] CNN iReporter Johnny Colt says the people at a coffee shop in Jordan didn’t like the news out of Egypt.

This constant flow of information, right from the source of events, does have the ability to be a catalyst for driving emotions, creating a ripple, a wave, and a movement. That said, it is the passion of the people around, involved, and impacted by the information that appears to drive real change, not the social network itself.

Not to diminish this event, or to create ANY sort of comparison to the impact and lasting history that will come from yesterday’s announcement in Egypt, but looking from an educational perspective at the potential for social networks to incite change, is this power really present to create real, impacting, and longterm change in education? This question does not relate to the internet itself, but the communities and movements created and driven within social networks to impact educational change.

as an example, just shy of a year ago, Ning announced its intention to focus on driving revenue through focusing only on Ning Creators who pay for Ning’s services. This announcement sent ripples through the educational technology community.  Within hours, twitter was in full force, bloggers were railing against the “betrayal” of company, and a groups of educators began massing to find alternatives or to create a movement that would sway this business decision. Interestingly, if you search the web for “Ning discontinue education” Google returns 233,000 hits… However, if you switch to searching “news” on Google, you get the following message:

Your search – ning discontinue education – did not match any documents.

So, while a portion of educators from around the world coalesced around a shared passion and idea leveraging social networks to expand their message and reach overall, the social movement failed to gain wide appeal from educators and non-educators alike, and even failed to gain network news coverage. Considering the massive amount of students throughout the world, one would expect a larger impact regarding this or other educational movements if these social networks in and of themselves could really impact change.

The question that keeps swirling around in my head is, “With social networking being leveraged by approximately 1/7 of the population of the world, (over 600,000,000 facebooks users, and 300,000,000 twitter users, not to mention the other social networking tools out there), how can educators converge to leverage these tools to really impact positive reforms in education?”

I’d love your feedback on that question or others like:

  • How can social networking embrace students in a positive manner?
  • How can education overcome the negative stigma of social networking to allow its use in schools?
  • Should schools TEACH the skills of social networking?
  • What are the  students in the U.S. passionate about in relation to their own country? In relation to the world? In relation to their own education?

Finally, I leave you with the question I began with: “Can social networking incite change?”

Image Credit: Screen capture from BBC video of Jan 29, 2011 – posted on YouTube by YouJudgeThis

What do you think?

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