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Is the role of social media in the Egyptian crisis overblown?

Felipe Trueba / EPA

Egyptian protesters sit outside a window shop with the word "facebook" marked on it as demonstrators are still gathered in a protest called 'Sunday of the martyrs', Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 6. Anti-government protests entered its 13th straight day in Egypt, as solutions were being mulled to bring about a power shift to end the country's political paralysis. Thousands of protesters slept in Cairo's central Tahrir Square, camping out in tents and defying a curfew, while many others streamed to the area in the morning, refusing to relent on their core demand that President Hosni Mubarak step down.

Frank Rich of the New York Times had a fascinating opinion piece about the role of Facebook and Twitter in the recent Arab uprisings.

Perhaps the most revealing window into America’s media-fed isolation from this crisis — small an example as it may seem — is the default assumption that the Egyptian uprising, like every other paroxysm in the region since the Green Revolution in Iran 18 months ago, must be powered by the twin American-born phenomena of Twitter and Facebook. Television news — at once threatened by the power of the Internet and fearful of appearing unhip — can’t get enough of this cliché.

He went on to quote NBC's Richard Engel:

Richard Engel, who set the record straight on MSNBC in a satellite hook-up with Rachel Maddow. “This didn’t have anything to do with Twitter and Facebook,” he said. “This had to do with people’s dignity, people’s pride. People are not able to feed their families.”


Tara Todras-whitehill / AP

Anti-government protesters take pictures of protest art in Tahrir Square, the center of anti-government demonstrations, in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011. Egypt's vice president met a broad representation of major opposition groups for the first time Sunday and agreed to allow freedom of the press and to release those detained since anti-government protests began, though Al-Jazeera's English-language news network said one of its correspondents had been detained the same day by the Egyptian military. The Arabic on the ground reads "We are the Men of Facebook".