The article talks about the increasing use of Facebook, Twitter, and other blogs and websites for these upcoming elections. Interestingly, since many candidates themselves are unfamiliar with some of the social networking tools, the web-design business (this includes making a Facebook page) is booming. Okay - so this is very interesting. But the article also raised an interesting question about the overall effectiveness of such internet campaign in a country where illiteracy hovers around 30%.
Egypt, or about 21% of the total population of 80 million. For comparison, Pakistan has 18 million users - but that represents only 10% of the population (180 million), India has 81 million users, representing 7% of its 1.2 billion people. But the growth in internet usage is also quite stunning in the last decade (2000-2010): Egypt with 3700% increase, India with 1500% and Pakistan with almost 14000%!
Internet may not be playing a major role in Egyptian politics today, but it is clear that it will be a factor in the coming years - especially in a country where the population is dominated by those under 30.
Now, while I was thinking about this post, I ran into an NPR story this morning about the role of internet in bringing about political change in Malaysia. Listen to the story here (it is about 3min long). This is very interesting. While the ruling party of the 50 years retained strict control over the print media, it could not contain the usage of the web. And this is tied to economic policies:
And the government has pledged not to censor on the Internet. Ironically, it was former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who had a reputation as an authoritarian, who made the pledge as part of an effort to attract investment to a hi-tech "multimedia super corridor."
Sharom argues that the credit for this goes to foreign investors, not the former prime minister.
"He wanted to create a cyber hub, another one of his grandiose plans which I don't think has taken off," Sharom says. "But thankfully for the rest of us, as part of his plans, he had to give in to international demands that there be no Internet censorship."But what fraction of Malaysian population actually uses the internet? After all, this is what we were talking about in the Egyptian case. Well...it turns out that roughly 65% of Malaysians, or 17 million out of the total population of 26 million have access to the internet! This is quite spectacular - and then it is no wonder that politics has been affected by it so much.
Except for the spread of conspiracy theories that also fuel mass paranoia and may lead to a divorce from reality. Stay tuned for the next post.
Update (Nov 23): I just saw this piece on the rampant use of Twitter and Facebook in Indonesia (it is the 4th largest user of Facebook!). As far as internet usage is concerned, Indonesia has 30 million users - that make up 12% of its population of 240 million.