American UN Ambassador Susan Rice gave an unprecedented livestreamed townhall at Twitter HQ today, “a very interesting and exciting day” due to the at the time impending speech of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. The talk was replete with questions from Twitter users and had its own hashtag #askambrice.
Rice began the townhall praising Twitter for leading the charge and redefining the media landscape in these unique times.
“You are doing amazing work. I hope you have the satisfaction of knowing that it’s having real time real impact in parts of the world as far flung as Zimbabwe, where I just learned you have 66,000 users, to of course the Middle East and so many other parts of the world.
You should be very proud. An American and as a policymaker, I am very proud of you and proud to be here.”
Rice went to address Twitter user concerns about the genocide in Sudan, the brutal actions of the Lord’s Resistance Army, the value of the UN, President Obama’s commitment to technology and entrepreneurship as well as the possibility of Hosni’s resignation (“We support democracy in Egypt”).
While the entire video is fascinating to watch (Craigslist co-founder Craig Newmark makes a brief but hilarious appearance), the most intriguing part for me at least was when Rice was asked a question about how foreign governments viewed Facebook and Twitter.
“It’s impossible to escape the recognition that Twitter and Facebook and other forms of social media have had an enormous impact on the emergence and coalescence of these social movements, and governments are increasingly cognizant of their power and their importance. Different ones have responded differently, some have tried to suppress free expression, others have recognized that that’s futile and some have done both.
It’s an extrodinary moment. As I sought to allude to in my opening comments the power of this technology and the power of social networking to channel and champion public sentitment has been more evident in the last few weeks than ever before. We can only begin to speculate what its impact will be elsewhere throughout the world.”
The outcome of today’s events in Tahrir Square is still “to be continued,” and the scope of influence of Twitter and Facebook on the protests in Egypt, Tunisa, Yemen and now Syria is subject to endless debate.
But Rice is right, there’s no denying that social media has a powerful effect on social movements, but as to its exact magnitude we can only begin to speculate, fittingly, hopefully, on Twitter.