On January 28, 2011, Egypt’s President, Hosni Mubarak, took the drastic and unprecedented step of shutting off the Internet for five days across an entire nation. His reason for doing so was simple: to halt the flow of communication and coordinated assembly taking place over social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter. That Mubarak took this desperate step — which cost Egypt an estimated $90 million2 and outraged the international community — demonstrates the incredible power of social media. Mubarak’s decision to shut off the Internet took place after three days of demonstrations by tens of thousands of Egyptians. Although the demonstrations were centered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square (or “Liberation Square”), there were also substantial demonstrations in Alexandria, Mansoura, and Suez. The protesters expressed outrage over several issues, including state corruption, police brutality, and economic oppression. Their demand was clear: President Hosni Mubarak must leave the country.
Various groups, including April 6 Youth Movement, We Are All Khaled Said, National Association for Change, and Kefaya led a coordinated effort using social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, to spread a revolutionary message.8 Prior to the first day of protest, 85,000 Egyptians pledged on Facebook to attend “Revolution Day.” Similarly, April 6 Movement had over 90,000 members during the protests,10 and We Are Khaled Said had over 40,000 Facebook fans.11 In the two weeks leading up to and including the first few days of the protest, Egyptians created 32,000 Facebook groups and 14,000 Facebook pages.12 It is likely that a substantial number of the five million Facebook users in Egypt13 were in some way encouraged to attend the protests.