The recent technological advancement has made communication a lot easier. More than 50% of the world population are now using cell phones and other wireless devices to transmit voice and text messages across the globe (Howard 6). According to Howard (7), social media makes it possible to transmit information targeting a large audience that is spread over a large geographical area. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have substantially altered the way individuals relate to each other. It has broken communication barriers and allowed the sharing of information on an unprecedented scale (Howard 8). This paper analyses the role of social media in the recent uprisings across the Arab world. It aims at establishing that social media played a central role in the success of these uprisings.
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Role of Social Media
Social media can only influence a revolution if it has the right membership at the time of the revolution. For instance, the 2010 Tunisian revolution that led to the ousting of President Ben Ali is believed to have been greatly influenced by social media (Madeline 5). According to statistics, 94% of Tunisians rely on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other online blogs for news (Madeline 5). Madeline (5) notes that the state-sponsored mass media only receives attention from less than 40% of the population. As Madeline observes, just before the commencement and during the early stages of the revolution, Tunisia experienced an unprecedented 70% increase in Facebook and Twitter enrolment (5). More than 90% of the tweets generated talked about the activities of the revolution (Madeline 5). This made it hard for the government to control the protestors’ activities.
Apart from Tunisia, Egypt experienced two revolutions within two years (Madeline 5). The first revolution led to the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and the second one culminated in the overthrowing of the democratically elected Mohamed Morsi in 2013 (Madeline 6 & Wahid 1). According to Madeline (5), 88% of Egyptians receive news through social media and only 36% of the population give some attention to the state-sponsored media. In 2011, Facebook and Twitter enrolment in Egypt was 6,586,260 and 131,204 people respectively (Madeline 13). Madeline claims that more than 40% of them are young people aged between 18 and 24 years (6). The situation was the same in Libya which had a high membership on Facebook and Twitter at the time of the 2011 revolution that culminated in the killing of President Muammar Qadaffi (Madeline 12). Too much reliance on social media for information leaves authorities with little control on the amount and content of information that moves around. Under such circumstances, an uprising can be very successful.
It’s worth noting that social media only enhanced the activities of the uprisings as opposed to initiating them. Apart from helping in coordinating protest activities, constant tweeting, and updating of messages that immediately went ‘viral’ boosted the protestors’ morale by assuring them that they had the support of fellow citizens (Masoud 17). Uploading of offensive images showing government officials unleashing terror on protestors attracted more people to join in the fight. While the police were busy firing bullets, protestors were busy firing tweets. This led to over-stretching of security machinery which were eventually overwhelmed.
Social media has played a central role in both legitimate and illegitimate uprisings. The ability to transmit information that reaches a broad audience facilitates smooth mobilization and coordination of protest activities. Too much reliance on social media, as opposed to state-sponsored media, denies the authorities control on information flow. Therefore, social media provides a good platform for opening up of democratic space.
Howard, Phillip. The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Information Technology and Political Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Web.
Madeline, Storck. The Role of Social Media in Political Mobilisation: A Case Study of the January 2011 Egyptian Uprising. St. Andrews: University of St. Andrews. 2011. Web.
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Masoud, Tarek. The Road to and from Liberation Square. Journal of Democracy. 22 (2011): 20-34. Web.
Wahid, Michael Hanna. Blame Morsi: How to Wreck a Country in 369 Days. New York: Century Foundation, 2013. Web.