Facebook playing down role as ‘key tool for democratic change’ in Middle East
Washington: Despite playing a crucial role in providing a platform for democratic change in the revolts that toppled the governments in Tunisia and Egypt, Facebook executives are avoiding taking credit for it fearing that it would lose its foothold in some of the countries like Syria.
The New York Times quoted the executives as saying that Facebook is not speaking out openly about its role in the revolt because it fears that countries like Syria will impose restrictions on the website or start monitoring its users more closely.
On being asked about the company’s role in the recent political turmoil in the Middle East and the impact of the social networking site’s services, Elliot Schrage, the Vice President of global communications, public policy and marketing at Facebook, avoided giving a clear answer.
“We’ve witnessed brave people of all ages coming together to effect a profound change in their country. Certainly, technology was a vital tool in their efforts but we believe their bravery and determination mattered most,” he said.
Meanwhile, Facebook has said that it does not want to change its policy of requiring users to sign up with their real identities. But some human rights advocates believe that it could endanger the lives of anti-government activists.
“People are going to be using this platform for political mobilization, which only underscores the importance of ensuring their safety,” Susannah Vila, the director of content and outreach for Movements.org, which provides resources for digital activists, said.
Last week, Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, had urged Facebook to take “immediate and tangible steps” to help protect democracy and human rights activists who use its services.
However, Facebook’s Chief Executive, Dick Durbin, had written a letter to American computer scientist Mark Zuckerberg saying that although the recent events in Egypt and Tunisia have highlighted the importance his site played as a platform to voice opinion on democracy and human rights, he was “concerned that the company does not have adequate safeguards in place to protect human rights and avoid being exploited by repressive governments.”
Although other social media tools like YouTube and Twitter had also played major roles in Tunisia and Egypt, Facebook was the primary tool used in Egypt, first to share reports about police abuse and then to build an online community that was mobilized to join the January 25 protests, the paper added.