As much as been written about Google lacking the social networking gene, it's ironic that one of Google's executives used social media as his weapon of choice in rallying demonstrators on the streets of Cairo. While Google's "Don't' Be Evil" stance on oppressive countries offered up their Speak2Tweet voice messaging service, their Middle East manager Wael Ghonim became so vocal on Twitter and Facebook that he was actually detained by Egyptian authorities for 12 days in captivity
Ghonim, who heads up Google’s marketing division for the Middle East and North Africa, had mysteriously disappeared in Cairo at the end of January, shortly after posting on his Facebook page that people had scoffed when he said the “Internet will change the political scene in Egypt.”
Just prior to his disappearance he was able to released what many are calling the tweet heard round the world. Shortly afterwards, Ghonim said he was snatched off the street and spent much of his detention blindfolded.
And just as quickly - when he was released after being detained for almost two weeks - he sent a follow up tweet to announce he was still in the fight.
In a TV interview that quickly made its way to YouTube, he acknowledged being the administrator of his now famous Facebook page that was one of the central inspirations for the initial protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
After hearing how many people had been killed during his detainment, Ghonim broke down in tears and addressed the crowd once again at Tahrir Square on February 8. He denied being a hero: "I was just typing on my keyboard. You are the heroes," he said to all those that attended the rally.
The additional irony here is that up till this point Mubarak was somewhat lenient where Google search was concerned. Dissimilar to the ongoing friction that Google has experienced in China, Google's relationships with Egypt has been relatively calm. According to an AP release, "based on the company's own breakdown of how frequently it is asked to remove content by authorities around the world, the government of President Hosni Mubarak has rarely objected to its search engine."
As the world has seen, closing off access to social networks like Facebook and Twitter, plus disengaging the Internet is a costly matter for any country. For Egypt, according to a top Western think tank, they believe Mubarak's rash actions against his country's anti-government protests will cost Egypt a minimum of $90 million.
So where does this leave Google in Egypt going forward? Certainly in the eyes of world, Wael Ghonim is a hero, and the search engine company that employs him could only gain global prominence by supporting him. On the other hand, Google search will now probably face greater scrutiny, if Mubarak's regime's survives this revolution?
Hopefully this will become a moot point as the success of social media becomes more pronounced in the region and patriots such as Ghonim continue to utilize social networks as their soap box for the months and years ahead.
UPDATE- February 11 - Technorati.com Ghonim intends to write a book with "Revolution 2.0" as its title,
highlighting the role of social media in Egypt's historic political change.