For the past week, there have been large protests in Madison, WI, and today 60,000 people gathered in the streets. I have been taking part in these protests, and I am starting to really understand how Facebook helped play a role in Egypt's story through how it is helping this story to unfold.
Simply put, every single thing I see on Facebook these past couple of days has been related to the protests. I do not assume that this is typical for the nation, but I am thinking that it is typical for my friends. After all, people tend to associate with other people who share similar values and who live in the same geographic area, which means that a large number of my friends on Facebook are fired up about what's happening as I am.
Almost moment by moment, I am learning about what is events across the wide range of the protest. News of these events is more immediate and comprehensive than I am seeing on any single news source. Instead, what is typical is that I will see first a link to a video on you tube or to an announcement by some political official or some other primary source. Sometimes, a fantastic photo pops up on Facebook itself, sometimes from a surprising source.
Then, perhaps a few hours later, I will start to see the same story linked on a local news website. Then, perhaps even later, I will see the story picked up by a major news outlet.
In other words, thanks to these media, the news is going viral, and small, important details of what is happening are able to be brought to public light much more easily. Because the primary sources of information are shared, the news media has a much easier time to pick up on major events.
Additionally, since all of the news pages are being shared so quickly, the hit rates on these stories are starting to rise. The more and more stories are viewed, they trickle to the top and become listed in the top stories for a given paper, which helps boost the stories high enough to be picked up by a larger news outlet.
In this sense, social media is helping the news makes itself.
Meanwhile, any petition that comes out has a very good chance of going viral. Suddenly, the letter writing campaign becomes a powerful tool to generate a lot of traffic very, very quickly.
These events are all unfolding quickly, and I'm sure that in the next few days, I am going to continue to split my time between the streets and Facebook.