The Role of Social Media in the Arab Spring

In Measuring the Success of Digital Campaigns David Karpf describes what makes a digital campaign successful. He outlines two different ways to assess a campaign—tactical and strategic measures. Tactical metric is when you measure the raw number of traffic a website or blog receives, or the number of tweets, friends, or likes. On the other hand, strategic metrics “require a clear theory of how you expect your tactics to make a difference, in turn clarifying which measures actually contribute to success” (Karpf, 151). Karpf claims that strategic metrics are more useful because they can isolate what needs to be done and what’s the most useful tool that can be utilized to get results. Therefore, many social media campaigns are not successful because they rely too heavily on tactical measures as opposed to strategic measure.

This idea that digital media isn’t as beneficial to democracy as once thought is similar to Morozov’s point of view. He argues that people have considerably overestimated the power of digital tools and the internet in mobilizing people because people generally use these tools as a source of entertainment, not politics. Instead of mobilizing people, these digital tools are actually pacifying them and are giving them an escape from their own lives.

However, recently, the role of social media and digital tools may have changed when the events of the Arab Spring unfolded. Though an argument could be made that the uprisings during the Arab Spring were not entirely due to social media, but because the government did not provide the type of entertainment that induces people to forget about their problems, I’m more inclined to believe that the way social media was utilized was more productive. In other words, the campaign was more strategic in nature than tactical. This means that the posts on Facebook or Twitter were operated in such a way that it spread to the people who were most likely to engage in the protests instead of just the general population. After all, in order to make a revolution, the tweets or posts needed to reach the activists within the country. Therefore, the number of people who viewed the links inside the Arab world, though considerably less than the number of people who viewed them outside the Arab world, were probably those who were most likely to mobilize people and make an impact. Do you think that the role of social media has changed in the recent years, and if so, how?

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2 Responses to The Role of Social Media in the Arab Spring

  1. Tyler Parent says:

    The argument that the posts created via social media reached individuals who were more likely to engage in protests is an interesting way to frame one possible force behind the Arab Spring movement. This idea clearly would support Karpf’s argument that strategic metrics carry greater weight than tactical. This argument however relies on social media posts reaching motivated individuals. It is relevant to identify who these possible motivated individuals would be. Stereotypical depictions of the users of social media are focused on youths. Is it possible that the activists within this movement that were inspired by social media to protest were predominately youths? Furthermore how would these people that were likely to engage in protest that received these messages through social media inspire the millions of people that participated in these protests that were not social media users?

  2. arlaurin says:

    The role of social media has certainly changed in the past few years as the Pasek et al. reading points out. The study was done a time that MySpace was bigger than Facebook, but mentioned that things were different now (ex: rise of Facebook). I believe social media has become more political, especially with the use of Twitter. I personally follow various news outlets on Twitter that I would not follow any other way (due to time restraints).

    I am very interested in the question above by Tyler about “how these messages through social media inspire the millions of people that participated in these protests that were not social media users?”. Some thoughts about this would be that social media began it, but also world travels fast by mouth as well. Sometimes you do not personally see something on the web, but your friends do and inform you of the matter. This is where social capital (offline) comes into affect by trusting in others and following a cause.

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