Monday, October 10, 2011

Letters from Egypt: Facebook Fuels Ignorance, Hatred


So now, let’s take it to social media – the catalyst behind the revolution. Egyptians were the first among the ‘Arab Spring’ nations to utilize social media as a platform for political change with blogger Wael Abbas accredited for its onset. As a journalist, I use Facebook for a variety of reasons – not just for personal contacts but to also monitor the banter for situations such as this. Here are a few excerpts from my newsfeed to give you a better insight as to what others on the ground in Egypt are saying as well as to highlight what happens when people take to the internet to post rhetoric without looking up any facts to substantiate their argument(s).

*Please note that all names are withheld for privacy purposes*
**Excerpts were not edited and remember, for many, English was not their first language**

“My only advice to the Egyptian army today. SHOOT TO KILL. These people are not protesters, they are barbarians and hooligans. The country and world could use a few thousand less of them.”

This person was reamed with 90 comments coming back protesting this statement. Then the same person began to justify this statement with unverified and untrue figures:

“It's a protest because of a church incident in Komombo. I don't understand why they would attack the army in Cairo! 3 army officers dead, 400 injured, 30 of which are in ICU...

This was posted around 8 pm local time, at which time reports varied with 19 deaths total, including two to six military personnel, and 150 injured. When the person was asked to support these numbers, the response was: “will find you a link one second.” I’m still waiting for that link…

Once the original poster continued to get an earful from those considering the words inhumane and insensitive, the person did the typical Egyptian move and backpeddled.

“Wow...I can't believe you took this status seriously...read the two [statuses] above it

The next two status updates to combat the initial outburst were (shortened rant):

“It is so simple to take someones sarcasm and words and process your understanding of what their beliefs are. I do not and will never encourage mass shooting by anyone, specially not the army which is OBVIOUSLY more powerful by numbers and force.

I am sorry if my status offended you, and I retract it immediately as it was sarcastic in regards to 'touchy topics'...but for future reference, don't be so quick to judge someone, and try and see both sides of a story. THE ARMY ARE PEOPLE TOO. THEY HAVE FAMILIES!!!!!

Yet, I failed to see the both sides present in the argument. Coincidentally enough, the next status all of the sudden, undoubtedly expecting to gain sympathy and forgiveness for the first uncouth rant:

“UPDATE for all the people who stood against me defending the army today...My moms car just got attacked by a group of "protesters" on her way home from work (in Tahrir).

The next poster grew up in the UK mostly and splits time between Egypt and the UK, but is Egyptian and Muslim.

“My heart goes out to all that were shot, killed or injured today for standing up for Justice, Love 'n Unity and an END to the INJUSTICES towards the 'I'riginal Orthodox Coptic peoples of Egypt ..

Response:

“u see first and talk smart instead of spreading western propaganda. U r not even in egypt so dont talk about Egypt”

This person continued to post against the original poster:

“u r lebanese and u r more attached to the american culture than ur own culture. And u r doing music which is not egyptian. U r more ethiopian than egyptian...

How American culture got involved when the person has never spent any time in the US is beyond me. And someone else’s response to the original post (which I will shorten since Egyptians tend to ramble):

“let's say that the Aswan villagers who really burnt da church ok ... nd sure there are many videos showin how small the burnt buildin was nd sure u can find it in utube or i can send it to u .. nd no matter how big or small is it ... no matter if da villagerz or sum ppl did it on purpose ... is burnin a buildin worth killin one human being ? but da orthdox church leaderz made a public threats thru da media nd thru utube nd i can send ya da video if u want ... the orthdox pops learderz said exactly : the governer of Aswan is a liar nd i can beat him wit my shoes nd this governer will die in 2 dayz in a bloody way nd if da leader of da military council didn't respond to our demands , he knows wut's gon happen to him ) this is wut they said.”

He failed to post the YouTube videos and/or links. See the pattern?

And to be fair, here’s a view from a Coptic Christian’s page (note when I brought this person food after the revolution, he was too busy to be present to collect the items and was instead in Tahrir Square – long before the church attacks. He sent someone to pick it up, never said thank you and only asked for more):

“the Egyptian army crushed the Christian by its tanks and cars in Masbiro in Tahrir square

Responses:

“I think the army is the victim, the protestors attacked the army. Most of the killed people are from the army.” (Not true about the majority of deaths being military)

His reply:

“Really, please see the pic in the news and the videos how the army crush the Christine, and don’t follow the Egyptian TV” (failed to provide links)

He then posted a gruesome picture which I will not add here from another friend (no source cited) saying,the army killed more Christians every day

He continues with various statements compiled below:

“I am so confused and can't thinks my mind is paralyzed ,what is happening for the church in Egypt which is Coptic from the beginning. If you,Marshal are Traitor , God is faithful, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

"the army use the same way of killing the Christian like Moubark's system"

I’ve only taken a few pertinent examples to demonstrate the negative repercussions of the internet. Social media can be a useful tool, but just like everything else, when used by ignorant people, it can be a very negative facilitator spreading unfounded and ill-conceived rhetoric. 

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