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What College Students Can Learn from the Protests in Egypt

Mar 1, 2011 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

On January 25, 2011, Egyptians took to the streets to protest rising unemployment, oppressive police brutality, corruption, and lack of freedom of speech in their society. Their demands included the dissolution of the existing Egyptian government. Nineteen days later, they got what they wanted—President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, and the Supreme Council of Egyptian Armed Forces dissolved the parliament.

College students and graduates were at the forefront of the protests. And they leaned heavily on social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to attract other protesters, incite passion, and organize logistics. Here are a few lessons college students in the US can learn about social media—and their power to change the world.

Social media sites are powerful—but they’re a means to an end

Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube played a big role in letting protesters communicate, arrange logistics, and get the word out about what was happening on the street. But without actual bodies on the street, there would have been no protest and no results.

Egyptian Protesters

Egypt’s protesters show that college students can demand—and get—the change they’re looking for.




Many of the worries about social media in the US come from people who are concerned that we’re using these sites as a replacement for real life. For college students and recent graduates in the US, it might be easy to think we’re really socializing—or job-hunting—when we’re on social marketing sites. We’re not. They’re tools that can help us greatly, but they’re no replacement for getting out in the world and making something happen—whether that’s networking in person rather than announcing on your Facebook page that you need a job, or meeting a friend for coffee instead of simply posting on his wall. In reality, social media sites can help you get things done—but you still need to live life in person.

There’s no substitute for real engagement

Egypt’s protesters were passionate about their cause—and it was this passion that kept them on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites. You could see it in every tweet you read. And that passion inspired others to join the movement.

If you’re a student using social media for an ulterior motive—like finding a job or getting the word out about a cause—it can be easy to post automatically because you feel you have to, not because you feel really passionate about what you’re talking about. But readers can tell. If you’re not posting tweets, for example, from a place of passion, you’re a lot more likely to run out of interesting things to talk about and to fall into the habit of simply promoting yourself rather than engaging with others. Find your passion first—and let that inspire your social media efforts.

Cell phones can help you engage as well as disengage

US college students and recent grads are often accused of being addicted to their cell phones, checking out of real conversations to text and tweet.  But cell phones can help you engage in the world around you, as well. Cell phones played a big part in the protests. Protesters used their iphones to broadcast up-to-the-minute reports from the ground via Twitter and Facebook, take pictures of what was happening, and spread the word.

You can change the world

While people from all walks of life participated in Egypt’s protests, college students were major organizers and catalysts. The effect of these college students’ actions will be felt for many years to come.

In Egypt, unemployment is currently about ten times as high for those with college degrees as for those without—and in the US, new graduates face one of the toughest job markets in recent decades. The US might have a democratic government—but we, too, need change.

College students and recent graduates in the US face massive student debt, ballooning tuition, a difficult job market, and no easy way to get health insurance if parental coverage runs out before landing a job with benefits. But Egypt’s protesters show that college students can demand—and get—the change they’re looking for. Maybe it will take that kind of passion, commitment, and organization among our college students to finally see progress in some of the issues facing them here.


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