One of Facebook's highest-ranking international executives told a dignitary-packed Israeli conference that the website played a minimal role in the Arab Spring.
While addressing the Israeli Presidential Conference in Jerusalem yesterday, Facebook Vice President for Advertising and Global Operations David Fischer commented on the revolutions in the Arab world. According to Israeli business newspaper Globes, Fischer stated:
"The social network gives people a way to express themselves and have their voice heard by governments and dictators—this was not so before […] When you see what is happening, you understand why changes are happening within the social media. However, I think Facebook gets too much credit for these things. In the end, the people who make the revolution are the brave ones here.
Fischer is the son of Stanley Fischer, Governor of the Bank of Israel. The older Fischer is an American citizen who moved to Israel to oversee the country's national bank.
Other attendees at the talk, titled "The New Media Making Tomorrow" and organized by Israeli President Shimon Peres, included German media magnate Rene Obermann, Hewlett-Packard CEO Leo Apotheker, Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg, TiVo CEO Tom Rogers and Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales.
The conference, one of Israel's largest annual events, also drew attendees ranging from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to French philosopher Beranrd Henri-Levy to comedian Sarah Silverman and pop star Shakira.
However, others might debate Fischer's attempt to minimize Facebook's role in the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions. Social media was a primarily tool for organization in both countries, including the infamous "We Are All Khaled Said" Facebook page. That page, created by Google executive Wael Ghonim, was instrumental in overthrowing former President Hosni Mubarak.
Like Ghonim, Fischer also has roots at Google. Before joining Facebook, Fischer was Google's Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations.
Fischer's comments also fit a continuing public relations approach on Facebook's part that downplays their role in foreign protests. While addressing the e-G8 Forum in Paris this past May, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg also explicitly minimized the company's role in protests.
While addressing the conference, Fischer also emphasized Facebook's lack of anonymity for users:
Facebook is part of a major revolution because it works only if you do it yourself. On Facebook, you have to put in your real identity. If you go in anonymously, probably nobody will approve you. That's why so many sites use Facebook as their system for responses—because it reduces harmful talkbacks by 50% because you have to respond as yourself.
However, most of the revolutionaries who organized via Facebook in North Africa—and those who are currently using it in Syria, Bahrain and for peaceful agitation throughout the Middle East—use accounts with false personal information.
[Image: The Israeli Presidential Conference]