Week 13

This week’s readings discussed the role of social media during the Arab Spring.  The readings were similar to last week’s readings about the role of social media in the Iranian revolution in 2009.  Two years later, with more presence on Twitter and Facebook, the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya still raise the question if the social media is in fact effective, or overrated.

I thought Cohn’s article about the shift of the state department to social media had interesting statistics.  The government recognizes that in order to have an online presence, you have to go to the people; you cannot expect people to visit websites that they do not usually visit.  I found it interesting that our government hosts webinars on social media practices.  This is targeting younger generations and teaching them how to voice their opinions in short, succinct messages.

Although the government finds social media abroad to be critical, Gladwell is skeptical its international presence.  He argues that people were protesting and bringing down governments before Facebook was invented, and definitely before the Internet.  This message resonates with last week’s readings that social media receives more credit than is due. Gladwell ends his article, “People with a grievance will always find ways to communicate with each other.  How they choose to do it is less interesting, in the end, than why they were driven to do it in the first place.”

Why do you think we are so interested in Twitter as a revolution tool?  Is the tool people use to revolt as interesting as the reason behind the revolt?


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2 Responses to Week 13

  1. tommyotoole says:

    I think we, as Americans, are typically extremely interested in social media as revolutionary tools because it makes us feel like we have a power to make changes without really doing anything. To answer your second question, I believe we put more of an emphasis on the ‘tools’ of the revolt because as a general public, we lack understanding of the actual peoples, grievances, political structures, and climates that actually have the largest effects on revolutions, such as the Arab Spring. I think Westerners want to imagine that an RT of a Tweet regarding current events in Egypt is contributing to the toppling of a regime in some way, so as more people participate in social media, the perception that its an important tool in revolution grows as well. Twitter activity is not indicative of the success of a revolt, however. Countries with failed revolts had a lot of social media activity, actually. In successful revolts, though, we still look past the people and climates that set the revolution in motion in addition to social media and overstate its effectiveness.

  2. kbking1 says:

    Good question. I think that we typically overestimate the role of social media because historically that’s what people have done with new communications technologies. There’s an idea I think that up until now everything has basically been the same, and because big changes like twitter or facebook don’t happen all the time, they feel really significant when you’re living them. Also it’s a lot easier to understand the impact of something retrospectively. So I think we’re interested in twitter in a revolutionary context because that’s what it feels like to us–it seems to be changing the way we interact with each other. Despite this, the facts seem to show that basic human interactions and motivations are still the same. The media landscape has changed but people haven’t really. Twitter definitely is a new platform for information dissemination, but simply putting information out there doesn’t mean that it’s going to be taken or used in a particular way. Because of this, I don’t think the tool people use to revolt is nearly as interesting as the motivations behind the political actions. How people revolt has always been different and it’s going to continue to change; the tensions that cause people to act reappear often throughout history.

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