The role of social media in the Arab Spring has been surrounded by amassed conversation over recent years. Is social media the backbone to the political uprising in the Middle East? Does the power lie in the brave activists themselves? Or perhaps social media isn’t where the revolt clearly begins, or ends? The majority of arguments surround similar cyber-utopian, cyber-realist, and conspiratorial views.
According to Morosov (2012), many accounts of the Arab Spring and the Internet’s contribution share a common theme – ‘Tweets were sent. Dictators were toppled. Internet = Democracy.’ Gracing these events as Twitter and Facebook “revolutions” just might not be the appropriate term, in fact, Wolfsfeld, Segev and Sheafer (2013) suggest that it is unlikely that social media played a major role in these times at all. They believe that the significant increase in the use of social media is much more likely to follow protest than to lead the protest itself. However, I’m not sure if I entirely agree.
There are many examples where social media is seen to give voice to the voiceless and coordinate movements which otherwise would not have developed into such fundamental proceedings. Sure, Facebook and Twitter alone do not have the ability to topple governments, but brave people with access to others do. Newsom and Legel’s article takes on a similar cyber-utopian approach, recognising online activism as empowering marginalised voices, providing opportunity for cross-boundary dialogue, and offering a drive for social change (Newsom & Lengel 2012, p.33).
Take 26-year-old Asmaa Mahfouz for example, an Arab woman who made a vlog calling on others to demand their human rights and disapprove the current political regime. This was undeniably a precarious move for any woman in an Arab nation. The video went viral on YouTube and social media, sparking mass protest in Cairo and making her a symbol of the Arab Spring.
In Arab cultures, women’s voices are often silenced, so women like Mahfouz are increasingly harnessing the power of social media and taking to these platforms in order to be heard. Newsom and Lengel (2012) suggest that their voices resonate as very powerful in the online environment because of this.
With a global reach, no filter and no cost to participate, the power of social networks in these situations is undoubtedly clear. Twitter and Facebook can be effectively used to voice opinions and organise protest, while YouTube has the ability to capture, share and expose.
Social media are indisputably tools contributing to social change, however, behind the keyboards and screen names also lay brave activists and many scrupulous long-term efforts to engage with political institutions (Morosov 2012). Cohesively, these are ultimately the driving and essential elements behind the Arab Spring’s political revolutions.
Morosov, E 2011, ‘Facebook and Twitter are just places revolutionaries go’, The Guardian, 8 March, viewed 11 October 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/mar/07/facebook-twitter-revolutionaries-cyber-utopians
Newsom, V & Lengel, L 2012, ‘Arab Women, Social Media, and the Arab Spring: Applying the framework of digital reflexivity to analyse gender and online activism’, Journal of International Women’s Studies, vol.13, no.9, pp.31-45, http://vc.bridgew.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1004&context=jiws
Wolfsfeld, G, Segev, E & Sheafer, T 2013, ‘Social Media and the Arab Spring: Politics Comes First’, The International Journal of Press/Politics, vol.18, no.2, pp.115-137, http://www.arifyildirim.com/ilt508/gadi.wolfsfeld.pdf