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.


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,

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,

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,


Twitter’s Transformation of Media and Democracy

On the odd chance that some readers aren’t entirely up to par with the social media landscape, let’s begin with a brief rundown of the wonderful world of Twitter. Twitter spreads information. It is a micro-blogging social media platform that allows its users to post ‘tweets’ of 140 characters or less to their audience of ‘followers’, which  are those individuals who wish to subscribe to them and consist of anyone from friends, family and colleagues to complete strangers.

Since the platform’s first emergence on the world wide web in 2006, it has undergone quite substantial alterations in functionality, many of these being the result of user innovation. In 2007, Twitter users began using the ‘hashtag’ (#) to tag content of tweets. Other users could then search for that hashtag which aggregated all other micro blogs discussing the same issue or event. Due to its driving popularity, the hashtag was incorporated as a fundamental aspect of Twitter’s successful business model and is now one of its iconic features. Users further developed the use of the @ symbol to reply and communicate to other users, and have also managed to find ways to overcome the tiny 140 character limit by including links to outsourced content (Johnson 2009).

Generally, one 140 character tweet alone is quite insignificant. But as these tweets connect and intertwine, they develop power and begin to add up to something truly substantive. Johnson (2009) likens their cohesive power to a ‘suspension bridge made of pebbles’. A pebble on its own is useless, but when hundreds are combined, they function with collective power. Together, users of Twitter are creating public conversation and a collective intelligence that is reshaping traditional media and democracy.

The growth of the Twittersphere has seen immense effects on the media industry. Traditional published media content is filtered by a gatekeeper who decides what gets published to audiences, and when. This information is therefore subject to bias and personal agendas (Bruns 2009). New media forms, however, have abolished the role of the gatekeeper as no information filters exist. Twitter has supplied users with a public arena in which they can share real-time news and their otherwise silenced stories. We are only just beginning to see the sheer power of these combined tweets (or pebbles) through movements like the Arab Spring.

Twitter Revolution

Twitter has being used by activists as a powerful citizen journalism tool to bypass government restrictions and expose underground civilian communities, assuring people of the Arab world that they are not alone and that others are experiencing similar brutality and injustices brought about by those in power. The platform has also been used to organise protests of thousands through the use of hashtags, and together these activists have ultimately toppled powerful dictatorship (Kassim 2012).

It is safe to say that Twitter alone does not overthrow governments – courageous people do. It has, however, assisted in user communication and coordination. It is the sheer power that these media tools provide users with that must be noted. Audiences are no longer simply consuming the information that is fed to them from industrial media. Instead, they are producing and broadcasting their own stories and opinions through social media, with unmuted voices and combined efficacy.



Bruns, A 2009, ‘News blogs and citizen journalism: new directions for e-journalism’, in Prasad, K (ed.), e-Journalism: New Media and News Media, BR Publishing, Dehli. 

Johnson, S 2009, ‘How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live’, Time Magazine, 5 June, viewed 21 September 2013,,9171,1902818,00.html

Kassim, S 2012, Twitter Revolution: How the Arab Spring was Helped by Social Media, PolicyMic, weblog post, 3 July, viewed 21 September 2013,