Social Media and the Arab Spring

It has being a phenomenon in most countries  including those in the middle east for armed soldiers to guard the national Radio and Television buildings apparently to protect the country’s formidable broadcast assets from being commandeered in an attempted revolutions or mutiny. However, this well secured institutions are no longer the prime medium to express or disseminate information. The Internet in particular opens a new communications channel, both in terms of accessing other peoples’ ideas and in terms of individual expression. Social media came to be used to generate awareness campaigns of many types, by individuals, organizations, movements, and even governments. The influence of the social media came to display  during the Arab Spring, allowing crowd sourcing, coordination of large-scale protests, scheduling demonstrations through  Facebook messages and globally communicating up-to-the-minute updates through Twitter.

The advent of the social media breaks the psychological barrier of fear by helping many to connect and share information. It gives most people in the Arab world the knowledge that they are not alone, that there are others experiencing just as much brutality, hardships, and lack of justice. Perhaps nowhere have the attempts to use social media to promote the principles of democracy in new ways been more visible than in Tunisia and Egypt, where Facebook and Twitter have been used to quickly disseminate information and instructions that the government has not been able to control. Some believe that the new social media have created a new process for revolution. The process begins when someone establishes a page on Facebook, which is seen by various users, who then comment on it and begin interacting with each other. Once the group is solidified, users begin posting pictures, video footage, and links to YouTube. As this happens, news and comments also begins to appear on Twitter, ever expanding the network of people who are linked in to debates about these events and images. Since the network is not limited geographically, the scope can quickly become global. While this process can be promising in terms of reaching large numbers of people very quickly and creating instantaneous reactions, it also carries the inherent danger of being used to perpetuate sectarianism, tribalism, regionalism, racism, sexism, and discrimination through the proliferation of extremist. It must be recalled that Facebook is not the private domain of enlightened values or democratic ideals. The reality of an open source is that it is open to everyone and anyone who cares to access and comment on it, whether constructively or destructively. Thus, there is the potential for both democratic change and retrograde reactionism that can have serious political and economic repercussions, and for both building and fracturing social cohesion.

It is estimated that more than 3 million tweets, gigabytes of YouTube content and thousands of blog posts, were recorded during the Arab Spring.  Conversations about revolution often precedes major events, and social media has carried inspiring stories of protest across international borders. evidence suggests that social media carried a cascade of messages about freedom and democracy across North Africa and the Middle East, and helped raise expectations for the success of political uprising, like Philip Howard, the project leader and an associate professor in communication at the University of Washington put it “People who shared interest in democracy built extensive social networks and organized political action. Social media became a critical part of the toolkit for greater freedom.”

During the week before Egyptian president Hosni Mubaraks resignation, for example, the total rate of tweets from Egypt and around the world about political change in that country ballooned from 2,300 a day to 230,000 a day.  Videos featuring protest and political commentary went viral, the top 23 videos received nearly 5.5 million views. The amount of content produced online by opposition groups, in Facebook and political blogs, increases dramatically.

“Twitter offers us the clearest evidence of where individuals engaging in democratic conversations were located during the revolutions,” Howard said.  Twitter provides a window into the broader world of digital conversations, many of which probably involved cell phones to send text, pictures or voice messages, he said.  In Tunisia, for example, less than 20 percent of the population uses social media, but almost everyone has access to a mobile phone. The outcomes of the revolutions in the middle east has brought down dictatorial governments out of power in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.

Social media has come to stay. The phenomenon can only get bigger and better. Regimes should be more concerned with how to exploit this media positively in governance rather than seeing it as a weapon in the hands of the people they govern. If leaders are transparent and honest they should not be afraid of the social media. An attempt to gag people is only a prelude to anarchy which could culminate in a violent revolution.

References:

Saleem  Kassim (July 3, 2012). Twitter revolution how the Arab spring was helped by social media. Retrieved April 18, 2014 from www.policymic.com

Catherine O’Donnell (September 12, 2011). New study quantifies use of social media in Arab Spring. Retrieved April 19, 2014 from www.washington.edu

Ramesh Srinivasan (October 29 2012). Taking power through technology in the Arab Spring. Retrieved April 20, 2014 from www.aljazeera.com

One thought on “Social Media and the Arab Spring

  1. This is a fascinating topic Barrie, and you do a good job in this draft of providing an overview of many issues at stake. The way your proposal begins is a bit confusing/abrupt, so perhaps you can begin with social media (your topic) and then build out from there.

    However, your proposal) does not follow the requirements/guidelines for the assignment (it should be a maximum of 500 words, and you have 800 here), and you have no annotations for your sources (a very important part of the assignment). For the next draft, which we will peer review in class on Tuesday, please revise according to the assignment.

    (Please also edit this post to also categorize it as “Annotated Bibliographies,” since you included your sources here.)

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