On December 20, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor tired of having his produce regularly confiscated and with no money to bribe municipal officials decided to burn himself alive in protest.   Little did Bouazizi know at the time, his brave act of defiance would spread through Tunisia in a matter of days following his death on January 4th.

The Tunisian people in the town of Sidi Bouzid where the self-immolation of Bouazizi occurred took up his fight armed only with rocks and cell phones. Social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook helped protesters spread the word by posting videos and comments from Sidi Bouzid to the rest of Tunisia. On January 14th, Tunisia’s President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali ended his 24 year reign.

In the month that followed Bouazizi’s sacrifice, at least a dozen others have burned themselves in protest in other countries; five from Algeria, five from Egypt, one each from Mauritania and Saudi Arabia. No ever knows what the trickle down effects of one’s actions might be, but I don’t think anyone saw coming what followed Ben Ali’s ouster.

Protests erupted in Syria, Jordan, Yemen and especially Egypt. Jordan’s King Abdullah dissolved his government and appointed a new prime minister. In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh increased wages and cut income taxes and of course in Egypt protesters are calling for nothing less than Mubarak’s departure.

President Mubarak of Egypt

President Mubarak learned very quickly from Iran’s massive protests in 2009 and Tunisia’s revolution a couple weeks earlier. When the malcontents in his country got serious he pulled the plug on Egypt’s internet and text messaging services, an internet blackout never seen on such a scale. Much to Mubarak’s displeasure, his stunt may have actually backfired as tens of thousands of demonstrators still pack the streets.

The age of information that we live in definitely makes it easier for us to organize, protest and rebel, but on the other hand it can just as easily go the other way with Facebook and Twitter acting as eyes for Big Brother. Most people in Tunisia were reluctant to post news, videos and other information in fear of government reprisals.

The Iranian government following protests against what many saw as unfair elections hunted down individuals responsible for organizing protests by way of the same social media sites. The lucky people were arrested, the unlucky ones were executed. Fortunately for them, you can kill a man, but you can’t kill his words once he’s said them and I believe it won’t be long before Iranians start to shout even louder.

I think technology and the spread of the internet will be far more instrumental in the removal of unwanted autocrats and the spread of democracy in the future as it is also much more peaceful than waging a full blown war in order to remove a tyrant. Given enough time and motivation (and followers on Twitter), even one man can start a revolution.

Rest in Peace Tarek al-Tayyib Muhammad ibn Bouazizi

Part two of Viva La Muslim Revolution! will be posted soon and will concentrate   on the ongoing Egyptian revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood and the western democracies that fear change.

If you go on any type of social media, and in particular Facebook, on a semi-regular, regular or frighteningly frequent basis, this has probably happened to you:

You see that one of your friends, probably someone you haven’t heard from electronically for a while, has posted something on your wall. You go to check it out and take a step back. “Wait a minute, why is my anti-corporate activist friend posting a link to skin cream?” Then it dawns on you, their profile has been hacked by some spammer.

As you race to delete the post from your wall, pausing only to read the joke comments followed by the obligatory, “dude, you’ve been spammed” you wonder if something like this could happen to you. Later, when you read the “uh, yeah, don’t click on that link” status update from your now embarrassed friend, you sigh and think, “oh, so the spammers have finally come here in force.”

The important thing we should all be asking our selves is, just who are these spammers? This isn’t the same “Nigerian prince” who emailed you and everyone else five years ago.

People on sites like Facebook aren’t generally the web-illiterate suckers who fall for just about anything that sounds good, and even if the scam is particularly clever in that it looks like a link that your friend may actually post, the chances of you then entering your cellphone number and paying for a text message to take a stupid quiz is, uhm, very small.

Essentially, these hucksters are hawking products to a market that won’t buy, or at least not in the numbers that would make it anywhere near a profitable venture. This begs the question, why?

Are they stupid? Well, if they possess the programming skills necessary to make an app do something you’re not expecting it to, then probably not. Is there some other motive besides instant financial gain at play? Sadly, I think so.

The real gain in annoying this many people, I feel, is the annoyance itself.

The net in general and social networking sites in particular are really changing the paradigm of power on our media landscape and in our culture in general. If person-to-person communication continues to dominate our global communication apparatus, then some people, namely those who run our huge corporate media, stand to lose quite a bit.

I wouldn’t put it past them to use spammers to discredit the validity of social media, even if only a bit at a time. Every little bit helps make people turn away from a media where they may be vulnerable to spammers to one they know all too well and every time they don’t check their Facebook or Twitter, it’s one more missed opportunity for a fledgling, unknown or underfunded media source to promote their content.

It’s a scam so simple that I’d be impressed if it wasn’t so damn evil. Honestly, if this is what’s happening, I’d rather spend my time with a Nigerian prince.