Home > Social networks > Social networks, powerful weapons in the Arab Spring

Social networks, powerful weapons in the Arab Spring

“Our 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,” (Philip Howard, University of Washington).

It all began at the end of 2010, today it will be a year since the first revolutionary march took place, and nobody can state which will be the next movement.

The Occidental society looked at this revolts half horrified half astonished, but they couldn’t do more than wait to see what happened. It was not their revolution. It had no leaders,  the masses were the ones which lead the revolutionary movement, and the social networks were their communication tools. Millions of tweets and gigabytes of Youtube were used to spread the information about what was happening in the North States of Africa, as well as networks like Twipic or Facebook (not in vane this revolutions have been called “Twitter revolutions” and “Facebook revolutions”), which accelerate the social protest.

Protest all around the Arab world

In part by using the social networking sites, activists organized and publicized the protests that gave rise to the so-called Arab Spring, which has so far seen longtime governments in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya fall, regimes in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain clash with the opposition, and leaders in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates offer more benefits to their populace. Conversations which took place online were casual, continually evolving and changing with user contributions. Twitter users operated with the appropriate linking hashtags (such as #jan25 or #Egypt, #Libya,  #Bahrain and #protest) while on Facebook events were opened.A statement that illustrates briefly the essence of the uses of social networks during the riots in Egypt was tweeted by an Egyptian boy and retrieved by another user, called @jaredcohen:

“Facebook used to set the date, twitter used to share logistics, YouTube to show the world, all to connect people” #jan25”.

Continuing with the case of Twitter, Ranwa Yehia, an Egyptian woman and the founder and director of Arab Digital Expression Foundation, spoke on an event of the power of social media as a tool leading up to and during the revolution in Egypt. She spoke of Twitter in particular as a way to know, on any given day, which entrances to the main square where open, where she could get a good internet connection inside the square or where she could find water, first aid, blankets or food. All of this, of course, on her mobile phone and constantly updated.

Curious civilians with their mobile phones were the ones who started documenting the rebel movement, instantly reporting the world of the events as they took place. This graphic documentation, together with the amount quantity of information that was available through the net, accelerated the revolutions and caused a big panic on the high spheres. This panic was generated mainly by young men, around 24 or under as states journalist Doug Saunders in his study about the revolution authors, and in some cases provoked the cut of the Internet and wireless service of the countries. But as professor Howard states, ironically, those government efforts to crack down on social media incited more public activism. Egyptians for example, who were isolated due to the efforts from the government to shut down the internet, may have gone to the streets when they could no longer follow the unrest through social media.

 Arab Spring

In addition, for being effective tools for communication and coordination by protesters, social networking platforms have also been used by governments, often to crack down on protesters. These are found to be areas of contestation between protesters and governments, not necessarily balanced in favour of protesters. User content created on mobile phones and instantly disseminated on the internet was a powerful tool in the hands of the regime security and intelligence forces, as well as protesters, and it could also be used to spread fear or disinformation. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter could be used to spy on protesters, find out their real life identities and make arrests and detentions.

REFERENCES

-“Social media shaped Arab Spring agenda – and created ‘slacktivist’ illusions?” Democracy Digest (12/09/2011) Retrieved the 03/12/2011 http://www.demdigest.net/blog/2011/09/social-media-shaped-arab-spring-agenda-and-created-slacktivist-illusions/

-“Twitter, Facebook and Youtube’s role in Arab Spring (Middle East uprisings) [updated 11/28/11]” Social Capital Blog, WordPress. Retrieved the 01/12/2011.

http://socialcapital.wordpress.com/2011/01/26/twitter-facebook-and-youtubes-role-in-tunisia-uprising/

-“Arab Spring really was social media revolution”. TG Daily(13/909/2011) Retrieved the 03/12/2011 http://www.tgdaily.com/software-features/58426-arab-spring-really-was-social-media-revolution

-“America’s Arab Deception and the greater war on free humanity” . Tony Cartalucci (20/05/2011) Retrieved the 01/12/2011. http://stevenjohnhibbs.wordpress.com/category/revolution/

-“Arab social capital is there – it’s young and connected” Doug Sanders. The Globe and Mail web. (05/03/2011) Retrieved the 01/12/2010. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/doug-saunders/arab-social-capital-is-there-its-young-and-connected/article1930770/

Visual documents:

-Ranwa Yehia- How the use of ICT fueled the recent revolution in Egypt” Retrieved from Youtube the 04/12/2011 . http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyUFZPlMJIo

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