Is That Egyptian Facebook Sign for Real? (Updated)
BY Nancy Scola | Friday, February 4 2011
Floating around the Internet of late has been the photo above of what looks to be an Egyptian man amidst the anti-Mubarak protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square holding up what appears to be a pro-Facebook sign. A sign like that lends a little weight to the idea that, whatever tactical role that social technologies might have played in the Egyptian uprising, they've captured the hearts and minds of Egyptians. Alec Ross, the U.S. State Department's senior advisor on innovation, found vindication in the photo. "14:58 ... 14:59 ...," tweeted Ross this morning. "Cyberskeptics, your 15 minutes are up." Powerful stuff, perhaps. But with the sheer volume of photos, tweets, blog posts and more we're seeing about Egypt, provenience is often an afterthought. And perhaps I'm the only one who had the though, but that block lettering looks awfully well done.
So to, um, just put on our skeptical pants for a moment, let's ask, is the Facebook-in-Egypt sign for real? Or is this a joke on Malcolm Gladwell?
It's the real deal, or at least all signs point in that direction. The photo has been tweeted many, many times, but it was originally, it seems, posted to the hosting service yfrog by NBC New's chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel. And Getty Images is offering a photo, taken by staff photographer John Moore, showing what looks a whole lot like the same man grasping with both hands the same sign and wearing the same green jacket and light brown shirt, only this time standing alone in a Cairo street. Moore is a highly-regard photojournalist who, in 2007, was the man behind the camera for a gripping series of photos tracking in real time the assassination of Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto. So there's that.
As to what the sign itself actually reads, the Arabic-trained Aaron Banks translates it as, "Thank you...youth [of] Egypt," then the Facebook reference, and then "Steadfast we will not go."
It's one man and one sign, but the imagery of social media like Twitter and Facebook, as well as of digital culture more broadly, has for sure been popping up all through the Cairo protests. NPR strategist Andy Carvin linked this morning, for example, to a photo of a young man holding a red, white, and blue sign that reads "Mubarak" and "Shift + Del.," a call for the Egyptian president to erase himself from the political stage. (His companion on the photo looks to be holding a simliar sign, only this time rendered in Arabic.) The Washington Post's Melissa Bell has rounded up professionally-done photographs that capture crude graffiti proclaiming "twitter" and "facebook" also taken in Tahrir Square. And as we've talked about before, signs reading simply "Game Over" have popped up not only in Cairo put in Tunis's earlier protests as well.
One takeaway: the debate over what real true role of the Internet (and Facebook, and Twitter) has been in this historic Egypt uprising has to include consideration of what the idea that is the Internet (and Facebook, and Twitter) means to the ones doing the rising up.
*Updated with translation of the "Facebook" sign.