Recent and ongoing political upheaval (and dare I say it, revolution) in the Middle East is the first of its kind to be dubbed 'cyber-resistance'. From Egypt to Syria, people have been informed, persuaded and inspired, not to say mobilized, by social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. So much so that the ousting of Egypt's Mubarak has been labeled the 'Facebook Revolution', while the earlier protests in Iran following that country's 2009 presidential elections have become known as the "Twitter Revolution".
Whether this is media-hype or not is beside the point. The internet is a powerful tool, and Twitter and Facebook are the means to a lot more interesting ends than banal, vapid status -envy.
With this is mind, here's a bit of what-if: what would Apartheid in South Africa have looked like if the internet and its' attendant social networking capabilities had existed during, say, the 1970's and '80's?
How would the banned and exiled ANC have used Twitter to rally the people of South Africa against the Apartheid regime?
How would the beleaguered National Party government have made use of Facebook to marshal the troops to hold back the tidal wave of Die Swart Gevaar?
It's an intriguing fantasy. Of course, humanity doesn't need technology to affect political discourse, but it sure helps. Kira Baiasu makes the point in a piece entitled Social Media: A Force For Political Change in Egypt, saying that social networking gives protestors invaluable anonymity, instant access to the masses and an opportunity to politicize an otherwise apathetic or disinterested body politic.
So allow yourself to imagine the Struggle on Twitter. Umkhonto we Sizwe's Facebook profile. The Robben Island group page. The 1976 Soweto Uprising sending out invites. End Conscription Campaign emails. Black Sash tweets. Chris Hani's status updates.
Or, for that matter, AWB blogs, National Party 'likes' and SADF Google campaigns.
I'm not trying to be facetious. I would love your suggestions on what could've been.
Of course, the obvious next step then is, "Well, if not then, why not now?"
No wonder Julius Malema suggested closing down Twitter last year...