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Social networking brings Egypt to the fore

Social media helps people feel like they are part of an event or situation says Zeedna co-founder

Social networking brings Egypt to the fore
Zeedna co-founder Rama Chakaki says social networking allows people to feel connected to events online.

The strength of social networking, and the sense of inclusion and empowerment that it can bring, has been key to the successful spread of information around the protests in Egypt, according to according to Rama Chakaki, co-founder of Zeedna. Chakaki says that the widespread use of Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets have enabled protestors to organize themselves and wage a successful media campaign.

 "In 2008 there were 30 million people online from the Middle East, this year we have 62 million so obviously the masses are on there and they are actively speaking and organising and they get to organise around issues that are of concern to them. In Egypt the issues range from access to new jobs to opportunity and that is what we are seeing, in essence they have used it very effectively, especially to keep the rest of the world informed about what is happening in spite of the blockades," she said.

Whether it is organisation or the governments, Mahmoud Abu-Wardeh, co-founder of Zeedna says they must learn that when it comes to social media because people are using social media any way and are talking about what governments and corporations are doing.

"If you are government or any other organisation and if your organisation means something in people's lives then there will be people talking about you on social media. They are not going to go away. Doing the ostrich thing and sticking your head in the sand and trying to pretend those conversations are not happening is not going to make them go away, on the contrary, you are losing a very important way to engage with your community," said Abu Wardeh.

Governments now have no option, if they want to engage with their target audiences, than to use social media to get their message across.

"Whether people like their message or agree with their message has nothing to do with social media, it is just another channel, a very effective channel. I think a lot of governments are very used to the broadcast way, they have their official TV stations, their official press and there is no feedback and it is really building that feedback and building communication into a dialogue and that is the key component of social media across the board, not just with government, with everybody," he added.

Abu-Wardeh says that the appeal of these type of social networking campaigns is that social media is a very human way of communicating. Users interact with real people whatever their background or status, and in the case of Twitter users can connect in real time.

"Every individual has as much of a voice on these channels as any organisation, especially with Twitter. There is the real-time element that is current and happening now and has a sense of urgency if you are retweeting something that is happening on the ground, it gives you that sense of connectedness. You are not just hearing a piece of news, but you are actually part of that event in a way that you have never been able to do before. It is a very human experience because you are having a to-and-fro conversation with an actual person who is on the ground, which you can never get from any other kind of media," says Abu Wardeh.

Chakaki says that they have seen the same kind of social media campaigns around some of the charities they help gaining massive attention because the subject has caught the hearts of social networkers and people feel that by contributing, they are helping to do good.

"From what we have seen with the charities that we are helping out, social networking gives you a voice and it gives you a hand in something you view as positive to contribute to. Our volunteers on the charity sites cannot leave their office and go and help the children or care for them, but can help spread the message to people who can do that and that is a big thing, At the end of the day you walk out feeling empowered and giving even form behind your desk," she said.

One of the charities Zeedna works with helps children in refugee camps with medical aid, Chakaki says that one particular case caught the attention of the public and the story, like that of Egypt, spread around the world like wildfire.

"We have an example of a charity that we were helping out last year, who works with children from refugee camps helping them with medical aid. One of the young men who came was a double amputee who had lost his legs just a year before he came here. During his stay we helped with rehabilitation programmes like scuba diving and we were constantly blogging his story and tweeting about it. He and the story became so popular that a film-maker ended up doing a documentary on him, it ended up on all of the Arabic TV channels and a big blog in the United States called Boing Boing ended up writing about him, he was featured in the Dubai International Film Festival," she said.

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