The True Tools of the Arab Spring

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.

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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.

References:

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

Hacktivism and the Crime of Curiosity

Hacktivism involves the similar disobedience and protest of activism, simply relocated into the online environment where skilful hackers do what they do best with the aim of promoting free speech, supporting human rights and exposing corruption. Groups of hactivists are responsible for denial of service attacks online, information theft, data breaches, web site defacement, typosquatting, and other acts of ‘digital sabotage’ (Paganini 2013). 

Whether you love, hate, condone or support him, Julian Assange is the perfect example of the term. Wikileaks was designed to benefit society by exposing top-secret information using his followers’ and his own tenacious hacking skills. In a networked society where information is free and hacker curiosity and confidence is high, the hacktivist culture is thriving and over the recent decades we have seen an influx of groups such as Omega, AntiSec and Anonymous causing a fluster online.

In the online environment, where can we draw the line between cyber crime, hacktivism and pure cyber nuisance? The argument of hacktivism and crime is a point of wide debate. Many argue that channels already exist for free speech, and that hacktivism simply causes damage in the online world, while others insist that it is purely a form of protest and should therefore be protected.

If those in power do not have the security over their information to withstand a hacktivist attack, I say let the lesson be learnt for whatever is it they have to hide. In a networked online world, information is free and skilful curiosity should not be labelled as crime.

I’ll leave you with an eloquent piece of writing from one of the earliest hackers, The Mentor, written in 1986 shortly after his arrest:

We explore… and you call us criminals.  We seek after knowledge… and you call us criminals.  We exist without skin color, without nationality, without religious bias… and you call us criminals. You build atomic bombs, you wage wars, you murder, cheat, and lie to us and try to make us believe it’s for our own good, yet we’re the criminals.

Yes, I am a criminal.  My crime is that of curiosity.  My crime is that of judging people by what they say and think, not what they look like.

My crime is that of outsmarting you, something that you will never forgive me for. – The Mentor (1986)

References:

Paganani, P 2013, ‘Hacktivism: Means and Motivations … What Else?’, Infosec Institute, viewed 2 October 2013,  http://resources.infosecinstitute.com/hacktivism-means-and-motivations-what-else/

The Mentor 1986, ‘The Conscience of a Hacker’, Phrack, vol.1, no.7, viewed 29 September 2013, http://www.phrack.org/issues.html?issue=7&id=3&mode=txt