Esra’a Al Shafei put it all in perspective Saturday. Speaking via Skype from her home in Bahrain, the founder and Executive Director of MideastYouth.com, showed the crowd gathered at Social South the true power of social media, the internet and the idea of freedom. Al Shafei was denied a visa by her country to attend the event, which was the least of her concerns.

Her grassroots organization of young people around the world to fight against oppressive regimes, civil injustice and even genocide puts the 20-something young woman in constant danger. If the governments of any number of countries she travels to routinely discovered who she was, she would be imprisoned or, more likely, executed. Her actions put her in a state where she should constantly fear for her life.

Fear for her life.

I stood in the back of the room and watched as this bright, passionate young woman said, “I am not afraid.” It brought me to tears.

Think of the world you live in, the freedoms you enjoy and the luxury of not having to live in world where people want to kill you for your ideas. Ponder this for a moment: The Social South crowd was asked not to take pictures or videos of her presentation for fear the governments and terrorists she fights against would be able to better identify her.

Think of her Egyptian friend AbdelKareem Nabil Soliman who is serving four years in prison. For blogging.

For blogging.

Al Shafei and friends launched FreeKareem.org to tell his story. The majority of those involved in providing content and work on the site would also be imprisoned by their countries of origin if discovered.

Yet the humbling power of our technology and our social actions online cannot be extinguished.

The Internet, and as a result, social media, deteriorates geographic, political and even ideological boundaries. One young woman, living in a relatively progressive kingdom in the middle of a political and ideological war zone, is proving that social media can unite, empower and fight against oppression.

The notion of freedom and free speech is something we in America, as well as other similar countries, take for granted on a scale that boggles the mind. The idea that people live in tyranny and without what we consider basic freedoms is ludicrous in our minds. It is reality for many.

Al Shafei told us Saturday that we can help. We can sign the petition and spread the word to help free Kareem. We can donate or pass the word on to others about MidEastYouth.com to help in their mission, which is:

To inspire and provide young people with the freedom and opportunity of expression, and promote a fierce but respectful dialogue among the highly diverse youth of all sects, socio-economic backgrounds, and political and religious beliefs in the Middle East. We use this freedom to create social change and to prove that the collaboration necessary for stability is possible.

How does that translate to changing the world? Look at their projects page. Read the stories. Realize the possibilities if thousands, even millions show support of this network of mostly young people trying to make the world a better place for all to live.

Five minutes on the sites mentioned and you’ll see why Saturday and today, social media marketing just seems rather trivial to me.

And for a bit of inspiration. Watch this video and imagine the world I think we would all like to see:

A penny for your thoughts. The comments are yours.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • Christi Glaser

    Being part of that event on Saturday is an experience I will never forget. I was/am humbled beyond words.

  • http://www.tommartin.typepad.com/ Tom Martin

    You are so right. I think seeing her via Skype vs in person actually made it more powerful. Sometimes the medium can be the message.. in this case I think it was. You also have to love how she shows vs preaches. Her content first engages you and then and only then does it teach you. Truly inspiring stuff.

    Thanks for sharing and pulling all the links/etc together in one post that we can all share. You da man.
    @TomMartin

  • http://soloprpro.com KellyeCrane

    I have now told numerous people about this powerful session, and I cry a bit every time. To hear her say “I am not afraid to die” for the rights we all take for granted was a life-changing experience.

    The concept she described of “information activism” – spreading the word by sharing the formerly unseen images and stories of oppressed people – shows the true power of social media. Jason, thank you for sharing what we heard through this important post.

  • http://www.marketingprofs.com bethharte

    Jason, thanks so much for putting a spotlight on MEY and all the great and treacherous work they are doing.

    I can say this was the first [and probably only] keynote that has ever brought me to tears. Esra’a Al Shafei is one of the bravest women (at 22!) I've ever had the pleasure to see speak. And I give a huge round of applause to Scott Schablow, Jason Hill, Stacey Hood and team for bringing her to us as attendees of Social South and for broadening our lives/viewpoints.

    My thought after hearing her speak is this: For all of you social media folks out there complaining that organizations “just don't get it” I ask you… What are you doing to go above and beyond to help them? What are you doing to go against the norm? What are you doing to risk yourself, your career, etc? What are you doing to bravely put customers first?

    And I have this thought only because it’s easier for people to whine then to do something about it or to risk something. Esra’a Al Shafei is using social media to LITERALLY save lives… I feel very small after hearing her story.

    Beth Harte
    Community Manager, MarketingProfs
    @bethharte

  • tammyhart

    It was such an awesome experience to see such a reaction to what Esra'a does. And her *shug shoulders* attitude when she says, “I am just doing what I believe is right” is mind boggling. She is one powerful little gal, and doesn't seem to notice!

    I am going to be doing an audio interview with her tomorrow as a follow up, so watch twitter and my blog for the post.

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