Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Friday, January 21, 2011



Having recently seen critically acclaimed movie THE SOCIAL NETWORK, I began to wonder: Just how powerful has FACEBOOK become? We all know FACEBOOK can do wonderful things for our lives. It has reconnected me with old high school friends and past roommates from around the world. People I like...but had understandably lost touch with...are now instantly available. But what about FACEBOOK's powerful Dark Side? It starts meaningless affairs, gets good workers fired, expels hardworking students, denies good university applications and...and...well...you get the picture. But in the recent weeks, the all mighty social networking site has achieved the ultimate power: FACEBOOK now has the power to overthrow the government of an ENTIRE NATION! (Wow! Even OPRAH doesn't have that much power!)

Sorry...as usual...I got ahead of myself! Let's start over, shall we? Our story begins in the small Arab nation of Tunisia. Wedged into a corner of northern Africa, poor Tunisia isn't blessed with massive oil reserves like her fortunate neighbor, Libya. So the ten million Tunisians must find other ways to make a living. Mostly, they produce things that nearby Europe can't and ship them a short distance across the Mediterranean. Hence, Tunisia has lots of orange groves (can't grow them in Berlin), small factories (cheaper labor) and, recently, tourism (great coastline!). However, with the economic downturn hitting Europe's Mediterranean nations particularly bad (See PIGS blog), frustrated little Tunisia's once lucrative industries are vanishing. Europeans simply aren't eating as many oranges, buying any flip-flop sandals and certainly not taking expensive beach vacations.

These tough times have hit the Tunisian middle class especially hard. Many educated people have been laid off and forced to take more menial jobs. MOHAMED BOUAZIZI (nickname: Bashoosa) is a great example. Forced to deal with 30% unemployment, the resident of the town of Sidi Bouzid has sold produce since age 10 to help feed the family. Yet he always aspired for more. He applied to the Tunisian army, but was turned down. He got accepted to university, but couldn't afford tuition. He couldn't even land a custodial job. Frustrated, but not deterred, Mohamed pragmatically decided to expand his produce stand. He bought a bigger cart and saved his dinars in hopes of someday purchasing a van.

However, according to local officials, Mohamed did not have the proper permits for a larger stand. (Read: Mohamed had not recently paid off any local officials.) On December 17, officer FEYDA HAMDI approached the Bouazizi produce cart and: "slapped him in the face, spat on him, confiscated his electronic weighing scales, destroyed his fruit and vegetable stands, all while her two colleagues assisted her in beating him." Oh yeah, Hamdi also hurled repeated insults about Bouazizi's deceased father during the assault. Injured, broke, crushed in spirit and humiliated in front of his entire village by a female cop, the man whose spirit couldn't be broken, gave up. A mere hour after the incident, Bouazizi doused himself in gasoline and lit a match.

Before the invention of FACEBOOK, we never would have heard about Bouazizi's sad, sad tale. But, since the Tunisian dictator ZINE EL ABIDINE BEN ALI didn't ban the powerful site, it was only a matter of days before the entire nation was informed and obsessed with the tragic life of Bouazizi. Bloggers hastily arranged marches which soon erupted into massive protests and strikes. Blindsided by the sudden wave of dissent, President Ben Ali rushed to the hospital. The state-controlled media flooded TV broadcasts and newspapers with images of the president at the bedside of the fruit vendor. But, alas, it was too little too late...and no match for mighty FACEBOOK. Within a month, the entire nation was bitterly against him. After more than thirty (mostly successful) years in power, Ben Ali boarded a private jet and fled in exile to Malta...not really knowing what had happened.

So...the next time you decide to do a little "harmless lurking" on the infamous social network site...remember: FACEBOOK has more power than you know! Just ask the FORMER president of Tunisia!

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