Let’s design social media that drives real change | Wael Ghonim


I once said, “If you want to liberate a society, all you need is the Internet.” I was wrong. I said those words back in 2011, when a Facebook page I anonymously created helped spark the Egyptian revolution. The Arab Spring revealed
social media’s greatest potential, but it also exposed
its greatest shortcomings. The same tool that united us
to topple dictators eventually tore us apart. I would like to share my own experience
in using social media for activism, and talk about some of the challenges
I have personally faced and what we could do about them. In the early 2000s, Arabs were flooding the web. Thirsty for knowledge, for opportunities, for connecting with the rest
of the people around the globe, we escaped our frustrating
political realities and lived a virtual, alternative life. Just like many of them,
I was completely apolitical until 2009. At the time, when I logged
into social media, I started seeing more and more Egyptians aspiring for political change
in the country. It felt like I was not alone. In June 2010, Internet changed my life forever. While browsing Facebook, I saw a photo, a terrifying photo,
of a tortured, dead body of a young Egyptian guy. His name was Khaled Said. Khaled was a 29-year-old Alexandrian
who was killed by police. I saw myself in his picture. I thought, “I could be Khaled.” I could not sleep that night,
and I decided to do something. I anonymously created a Facebook page and called it “We are all Khaled Said.” In just three days, the page
had over 100,000 people, fellow Egyptians who shared
the same concern. Whatever was happening had to stop. I recruited my co-admin,
AbdelRahman Mansour. We worked together for hours and hours. We were crowdsourcing
ideas from the people. We were engaging them. We were calling collectively for actions, and sharing news that the regime
did not want Egyptians to know. The page became the most followed page in the Arab world. It had more fans than established
media organizations and even top celebrities. On January 14, 2011, Ben Ali fled out of Tunisia after mounting protests
against his regime. I saw a spark of hope. Egyptians on social media were wondering, “If Tunisia did it, why can’t we?” I posted an event
on Facebook and called it “A Revolution against Corruption,
Injustice and Dictatorship.” I posed a question to the 300,000 users
of the page at the time: “Today is the 14th of January. The 25th of January is Police Day. It’s a national holiday. If 100,000 of us take
to the streets of Cairo, no one is going to stop us. I wonder if we could do it.” In just a few days, the invitation
reached over a million people, and over 100,000 people
confirmed attendance. Social media was crucial
for this campaign. It helped a decentralized movement arise. It made people realize
that they were not alone. And it made it impossible
for the regime to stop it. At the time, they didn’t
even understand it. And on January 25th, Egyptians flooded
the streets of Cairo and other cities, calling for change, breaking the barrier of fear and announcing a new era. Then came the consequences. A few hours before the regime cut off
the Internet and telecommunications, I was walking in a dark street
in Cairo, around midnight. I had just tweeted, “Pray for Egypt. The government must be planning
a massacre tomorrow.” I was hit hard on my head. I lost my balance and fell down, to find four armed men surrounding me. One covered my mouth
and the others paralyzed me. I knew I was being kidnapped
by state security. I found myself in a cell, handcuffed, blindfolded. I was terrified. So was my family, who started looking for me in hospitals, police stations
and even morgues. After my disappearance, a few of my fellow colleagues who knew
I was the admin of the page told the media about
my connection with that page, and that I was likely arrested
by state security. My colleagues at Google started
a search campaign trying to find me, and the fellow protesters in the square
demanded my release. After 11 days of complete darkness, I was set free. And three days later, Mubarak was forced to step down. It was the most inspiring
and empowering moment of my life. It was a time of great hope. Egyptians lived a utopia for 18 days
during the revolution. They all shared the belief that we could actually live together
despite our differences, that Egypt after Mubarak would be for all. But unfortunately, the post-revolution events
were like a punch in the gut. The euphoria faded, we failed to build consensus, and the political struggle
led to intense polarization. Social media only amplified that state, by facilitating the spread
of misinformation, rumors, echo chambers and hate speech. The environment was purely toxic. My online world became a battleground
filled with trolls, lies, hate speech. I started to worry
about the safety of my family. But of course, this wasn’t just about me. The polarization reached its peak
between the two main powers — the army supporters and the Islamists. People in the center, like me, started feeling helpless. Both groups wanted you to side with them; you were either with them or against them. And on the 3rd of July 2013, the army ousted Egypt’s first
democratically elected president, after three days of popular protest
that demanded his resignation. That day I made a very hard decision. I decided to go silent, completely silent. It was a moment of defeat. I stayed silent for more than two years, and I used the time to reflect
on everything that happened, trying to understand why did it happen. It became clear to me that while it’s true that polarization
is primarily driven by our human behavior, social media shapes this behavior
and magnifies its impact. Say you want to say something
that is not based on a fact, pick a fight or ignore
someone that you don’t like. These are all natural human impulses, but because of technology, acting on these impulses
is only one click away. In my view, there are five
critical challenges facing today’s social media. First, we don’t know
how to deal with rumors. Rumors that confirm people’s biases are now believed and spread
among millions of people. Second, we create our own echo chambers. We tend to only communicate
with people that we agree with, and thanks to social media, we can mute, un-follow
and block everybody else. Third, online discussions
quickly descend into angry mobs. All of us probably know that. It’s as if we forget that the people behind screens
are actually real people and not just avatars. And fourth, it became really hard
to change our opinions. Because of the speed
and brevity of social media, we are forced to jump to conclusions and write sharp opinions in 140 characters about complex world affairs. And once we do that,
it lives forever on the Internet, and we are less motivated
to change these views, even when new evidence arises. Fifth — and in my point of view,
this is the most critical — today, our social media experiences
are designed in a way that favors broadcasting over engagements, posts over discussions, shallow comments over deep conversations. It’s as if we agreed that
we are here to talk at each other instead of talking with each other. I witnessed how these
critical challenges contributed to an already polarized
Egyptian society, but this is not just about Egypt. Polarization is on the rise
in the whole world. We need to work hard on figuring out how technology could be
part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. There’s a lot of debate today
on how to combat online harassment and fight trolls. This is so important. No one could argue against that. But we need to also think about how
to design social media experiences that promote civility
and reward thoughtfulness. I know for a fact if I write a post
that is more sensational, more one-sided, sometimes
angry and aggressive, I get to have more people see that post. I will get more attention. But what if we put more focus on quality? What is more important: the total number of readers
of a post you write, or who are the people who have impact
that read what you write? Couldn’t we just give people more
incentives to engage in conversations, rather than just broadcasting
opinions all the time? Or reward people for reading and responding to views
that they disagree with? And also, make it socially acceptable
that we change our minds, or probably even reward that? What if we have a matrix that says
how many people changed their minds, and that becomes part
of our social media experience? If I could track how many people
are changing their minds, I’d probably write more
thoughtfully, trying to do that, rather than appealing to the people
who already agree with me and “liking” because I just
confirmed their biases. We also need to think about effective
crowdsourcing mechanisms, to fact-check widely spread
online information, and reward people who take part in that. In essence, we need to rethink
today’s social media ecosystem and redesign its experiences to reward thoughtfulness, civility
and mutual understanding. As a believer in the Internet,
I teamed up with a few friends, started a new project, trying to find answers
and explore possibilities. Our first product is a new
media platform for conversations. We’re hosting conversations
that promote mutual understanding and hopefully change minds. We don’t claim to have the answers, but we started experimenting
with different discussions about very divisive issues, such as race, gun control,
the refugee debate, relationship between Islam and terrorism. These are conversations that matter. Today, at least one out of three
people on the planet have access to the Internet. But part of this Internet
is being held captive by the less noble aspects
of our human behavior. Five years ago, I said, “If you want to liberate society, all you need is the Internet.” Today, I believe if we want
to liberate society, we first need to liberate the Internet. Thank you very much. (Applause)

75 comments

  • tomita ion

    uan

    Reply
  • tomita ion

    primul

    Reply
  • Ja Sa

    First

    Reply
  • Pohlerbear

    from just the title, I think we already have that. Reddit?

    Reply
  • Fahad

    please add Arabic subtitle ☺

    Reply
  • MisterAmbition

    What if half of society doesn't want your version of change?

    Reply
  • Dragon Summon Waifu

    Wow, powerful.

    Reply
  • Lorenz Illing

    good talk. what is the product's name?

    Reply
  • Youssef Siagy

    disagree

    Reply
  • Harith Zaim

    Brown Casey Neistat hahahahhh

    Reply
  • Daniel Lenza

    One word. Reddit.

    Reply
  • PuzzleMessage

    Finally a real topic, great talk!

    Reply
  • Brian Anderson

    Great TED talk 🙂

    Reply
  • nickjoeb

    I don't think making a new platform will help. Just change the existing ones.

    Reply
  • mhtinla

    Islamic State has been the most successful in using social media. Learn from them.

    Reply
  • mhtinla

    Change is not necessarily a good thing. Those who push for changes feel empowered. But throughout human history, sometimes we progress sometimes we regress.

    Reply
  • ItsAllUnity

    I don't know a lot about the social network in Egypt. but many tend to talk about themselves instead of talking with others about political stuff. often persons on the Internet feel personally offended if they are criticised by someone who thinks that that something is in their opinion not true.

    social media tries to get all people together, instead it isolates us

    Reply
  • mhtinla

    The first demographically elected president of Egypt after Arab Spring is Morsi from Islam Brotherhood. The West, who celebrated Arab Spring at first, now got confused. But of course Morsi was soon removed. Today the country has become a warm bed for Islamic State. Tourism is gone and economy is stuck. The country is unstable in comparison to pre-Arab Spring. I would say, THE CHANGE IS REAL.

    Reply
  • Bryce McCormick

    It's a really good idea, I don't think it's going to be easy

    Reply
  • yourliestopshere

    dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb……..

    Reply
  • Mat Broomfield

    So a man who has already failed massively to understand the nature of the internet should give us advice on how to use the internet effectively? And what actual solutions did he offer beyond his wish that people would play nicer? Desperately naive.

    Reply
  • Abdallah Gabr

    That's was a very gr8 deep critical thoughts about #SocialMedia impact with a disappointing Egyptian revolution flavor totally agree with @Ghonim and hopes we can get that Internet utopia

    Reply
  • xxatatskixx

    The one who invented social media has driven real change. This will be just an update.

    Reply
  • Mick7sp

    Strange… People have been Muting, Not Following and Building Walls long before Social Media was even conceived.

    Reply
  • g00gle WEARELEGION

    #circle

    Reply
  • marijaunnaz

    no. you cant tell me what to do

    Reply
  • Brian McInnis

    DRIVE. That DRIVE real change. This is NOT rocketology.

    Reply
  • Amer Sukkary

    anybody knows the new media platform ???

    Reply
  • Yew Tube Yoda

    Lets stop staring into the synchronized lights all day (cell phones, computer monitors, tablets, ect) and get out of the house more and live life and have fun. Do what we are suppose to do and not what we think we should try to do. Otherwise, you will have some mental "issues".

    Reply
  • Filippo Maurri

    the 5 critical challenges he mentions about today's social media:

    1. we don't know how to deal with rumors. people's biases believed by and spread upon millions of people.
    2. we create our own echo-chambers. we tend to only communicate with only people that we agree with and we can muteunfollowblock everybody else.
    3. online discussions quickly discend into angry mobs. It's as if we forget that the people behind screens are actually real people and not just avatars.
    4. it became really hard to change our opinions. because of the speed of social media, we are forced to jump into conclusions and write sharp opinions in 140 characters about complex world affairs. and once we do that it lives forever on the internet and we are less motivated to change these views, even when new evidence arrives.
    5. today our social media experiences are designed in a way that favors broadcasting over engagement, posts over discussions, shallow comments over deep conversations. it's as if we agreed that we are here to talk at each other instead of talking with each other.

    Reply
  • jakou

    Here is an experimental social media platform (android app) that may contribute to better conversations: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=co.forum.app

    Reply
  • Mohamed Refaat

    This spy tried to destroy Egypt, Do not trust in this traitor

    Reply
  • Titus Orelius

    Why do I get the feeling that this is a call for policing of the internet?

    Reply
  • weesh

    It's pretty sad to see comments attacking someone when one of their primary points is about how to be open to discussion and encouraging debate that changes minds.

    Reply
  • ايه ابراهيم

    we gonna still no thing till we be real Muslims,we sold our religion for boshit read about Islamic era, Islam is peace

    Reply
  • Sexual Potatoes

    His story is interesting, but the talk was "What if somebody could solve all these problems I've bumped with?"

    Reply
  • Doaa Ameera

    very interesting!

    Reply
  • Jackie M

    true. lies and rumor thrive on social media apps. it can ruin your life

    Reply
  • Quagthistle

    Social media and the internet doesn't change people. It merely amplifies what people already are. It's a truly difficult thing (and always has been) to take a group of people who pushed to separate from negative elements of their government and pull them together into a cohesive group. The same infighting that toppled the government, topples their own attempts to make government anew.

    "That to secure these rights [life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness], Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." – US Declaration of Independance

    The real problems aren't the trolls OR the government itself. It's the abuse of power. It is true that "We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion." (D&C 121:39) That is the key problem, and no amount of regime changes or revolutions can change it. It can only be changed one heart at a time, one person at a time. All-too-often those who join a revolution do so to gain power, but, once they have some, they can't handle it. People are too-often misled by misinformation or propoganda, creating an incentive to use such to gain power. Don't get me wrong, I agree that what's been going on in the Middle East is untennable for their people, and I totally understand wanting to end the oppressive regimes of the region. Still, drawing the protestors together afterward will never be easy. Even the founding fathers of America found it almost impossible to come together after winning their revolution, and the bickering and infighting nearly kept our government from ever forming at all.

    Reply
  • disarmyouwith a

    People think this is a problem you can solve with social media, lol.. He's lucky his govt. was so naive (then) planning a revolution isn't something you do on Facebook.. That's like gathering a list of people's names and addresses for the secret police to go visit. /sigh

    Reply
  • Mark Mark

    Revolution is a very slow and nasty process. Just look at the french, american, syrian, libyan etc. After the revolution comes civil war.

    Reply
  • Madhav Silwal

    The problems identified are absolutely to the point. But I don't think these problems can be addressed by using internet platforms. The solution lies in raising the consciousness of people by whatever means possible (education, meditation, yoga etc..), so that they have compassion to see other individuals just as human beings, without labeling them to any race, caste, religion, nationality etc. The problem is not the internet or social media, the problem is not able to see all people are as human as you are.

    Reply
  • Open School

    Wael Ghonim, the man who responsible for the 'Arab Springs' revolution confesses his personal experience about the 'sorry state of our Internet." And he also gives some practical solutions to 'reform' the net. A very engaging, need-of-the-hour talk. Without mixing any kind of a 'falsified emotion' he gives a simple and heart-touching talk.

    Reply
  • Elmuhager Elmancy

    You might of sparked the flames of rage against the Corruption, then you fled to safety, and then it all fell apart.

    Reply
  • AAA W

    He is a bad person, so bad to see TED host someone like him who are looking to destroy his country

    Reply
  • Sinking Feeling

    The problem with news is that if it is the obvious truth then nobody needs to read it. The only time the majority of the population cares is if the issue is a conspiracy, or injustice. Other than that the internet is tribal. People gravitate to the banner that their echo chamber most closely reflects. The way content creators and news outlets make their money is by writing something controversial, pitting tribes against one another. Welcome to Humanity; it's about money.

    Reply
  • FunBotan

    tl;dr: Twitter is evil.

    Reply
  • the prince

    bla bla

    Reply
  • walperstyle

    Well, Facebook is great at censoring people now days. So much for free speech. I'm game for better unregulated social media.

    Reply
  • kersianBWmax

    Reddit. The answer is Reddit

    Reply
  • JeffGriffinRVP

    Cutting the internet would leave The world only influenced by "The Media" which is controlled by 6 families… Great that he helped his people but that isn't the world that everyone else lives in. We don't want to be controlled we want complete interaction with the world.

    Reply
  • olaf France

    technologies can change the way we communicate in some way but can't change the human nature. At least at this point of time. For now humans have to raise awareness in themselves and learn to accept other opinions and how to live in peace together. So far humanity haven't succeed much at this task. We stay conformist as our old ensestors attached to their little tribes. For them it was much more a question of survival. What is an excuse for us….

    Reply
  • Perplexion Dangerman

    I started off bad in commenting but I found out that " what goes on in Vegas, stays in Vegas " is a better way to not create storms.  You may be in a radical site but that is the only place you talk about radicalism.  You go off talking about what is anti about a site and you get a bunch of mobs that is way beyond the control of the person who might of thought the comment was innocent.  And if you post sensitive things that doesn't suit the club or some mass posting that isn't narrowed down anywhere then you are exposing yourself to sensitive people or in other cases, insensitive.  If you want some personal advice,  try to be in a circle or club and don't believe these profiles are about views, subscriptions, followers and gaining such numbers because there are a whole lot of people you wish you never ran into.  I wish I can start these profiles all over but I got like two fingers left.  I hope somebody will open up a new place.  But if you like roller coasters then you will have stories for your grandchildren.

    Reply
  • Wel 3

    ياليت يكون مترجم

    Reply
  • Leonidas GGG

    The problem is that there is no middle grown… Being wise and settling compromise is dull and old. It is all or nothing.
    Also, lots of angry teenagers… Lots.

    Reply
  • Habtom Ghirmay

    the media is constracted, the game is how to come up to real change on the media,,,

    Reply
  • eman Gamal

    we need to liberie the internet

    Reply
  • Goldmeteora

    Well social medias are known for free speech there's no point in censoring their contents on a great scale.

    Reply
  • Sameh Ahmed

    wrong, i believe, if you did something good you have to continue not to keep silent for two years then give an opinion.

    Reply
  • Fidlie Doodag

    The world needs L.O.V.E.
    let our virtue enrich.

    Reply
  • Mlek Art

    baaaaaaaaad man

    Reply
  • muhammad dekow

    only stupid people are guided by anonymous….

    Reply
  • Inge Snip

    this is on of the reasons we started topishare: https://topishare.com/ext/landing/movements/

    Reply
  • hadylife

    I don't like this guy, to me he is a liar even though I'm trying to do the same thing he promoted in this video, trying to get out from my echo chamber, see, listen and consider other opinions, always keeping in mind that maybe I'm wrong. this is why I follow people that I hate most, telling myself maybe they are right, this is why I followed his facebook page, but the comments are open only for his echo chamber friends that gives him likes and tell him what he wants to hear.

    Reply
  • moslem

    internet is just a tool .. a mirror of human minds and cultures ..a recorder of sights an sounds and thoughts and behaviors .. just a mirror and recorder so not to blame

    Reply
  • moslem

    Wael you didnt tell us what is it you were doing bet 2011 and 2013 and why you are not calling the coup a coup and why was your retreat and silence and why you are back now

    Reply
  • abdallah khater

    After years of silence show up again,by which language? Where? Who you talk to? Really I don't like you.

    Reply
  • Nina Grenningloh Reyes

    Thank you, Wael, for sharing your thoughts on how social media affects how our society is dis-functioning. I agree, we need to explore ways to liberate social media before we can liberate our society. I'm currently supporting a new kind of social, knowledge, and action network, called Human Connection, that is set up as a non-profit with a focus on enabling deeper conversation and discussions by offering various functionalities that support an engaged, fair, and respectful debate of different opinions. Anyone who is interested can visit human-connection.org ! Peace!

    Reply
  • In Cognito

    he should be prosecuted and executed as a terrorist and inbred homosexual prostitute that he is

    Reply
  • Justin Case

    I'm sorry, but the TRUTH is often harsh and depending upon the mindset of the recipient, may never be seen as "thoughtful, civil, or understanding." Yet it remains the TRUTH, without which we would loose touch with reality.

    Reply
  • One Two

    Its not about using the internet or how to properly use it. Its about biases amplified or more like HATE amplified. Look to the US and you see it everyday.

    Reply
  • Nacho Cheese Doritos

    0:40 juxtaposition

    Reply
  • عبدالعزيز البريكي Abdulaziz Albraiki l

    بس ياخول

    Reply
  • eric shen

    that’s why China decide to block all those internet social media,just think about 1.6 billion people huge population in china, How the Ordinary people can Survive in this revolution like Arab Spring

    Reply
  • Max YK Ma

    In 2006 I visited Egypt and met the most famous Egyptian, Omar Sherriff, the one thing that strike my mind was he said “Democracy does not work in Egypt and the Arab world because after all these centuries, we are really a tribal society, borders don’t separate us or unite us, it is our Koran and our clan. “ how right he was! Is Egypt or any Arab Islamic country any better after a “democratic revolution?
    Democracy is only a new way for the western Christian world use to enslave the rest of the world they once colonised

    Reply

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