There has been a learning curve even among the most sophisticated media users, says Professor Howard, who researches information and communication technologies in politics and social development at the University of Washington.
In Tunisia, where fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation to protest the government became a cause célèbre, the news spread slowly, from a small number “who were close to him, who took pictures of his burnt and bandaged body and sent the images over trusted networks to families and friends. They passed them on and passed on the story,” he says.
A similar organic process spread the story of Khalid Said, the Egyptian blogger bludgeoned to death outside an Internet cafe, Howard adds. “He had been beaten, and a few family friends took pictures in the morgue and sent them by mobile phone to friends. His bruised face became the image that played out over social networks.”
Libyan rebels learned from the successes in Tunisia and Egypt. One of the most important lessons: Get the message beyond your own borders.
“Before the Libyan protesters had even met for the first time with their shadow cabinet government,” Howard says, “they had come together to build a website and send out the URL asserting their statehood.”