The readings this week continued to build on the issue of how much social media helped in the Arab Spring. While the readings last week centered around the use of Twitter in “Iran’s Twitter Revolution,” this week’s focus is on social media use in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. A particularly positive study done by Tufekci and Wilson lays out how much Facebook helped gather participants in Egypt’s Tahir Square. Due to the success of gathering protestors laid out in this article, it refutes the argument by Gladwell about how social media cannot help a movement in great ways.
In the article “Social Media and the Decision to Participate in Political Protests: Observations’ from Tahrir Square,” Tufekci and Wilson present their findings from the first protests in Tahrir Square. The results revealed that almost everyone with a Facebook (which was around half of the protestors) used it for communication about protests. Over a quarter heard about it on Facebook in the first place even, which was second as likely as hearing about it face-to-face. Traditional media was minuscule next to that. So many people were documenting the events with videos and pictures, which gave a rise to the citizen journalist online, particularly through Facebook (p.373).
Last week, Malcolm Gladwell argued though that social media sites including Facebook and Twitter only created weak ties. Although this article shall be taken with a grain of salt, it is definitely something to think about still. I would argue that while they may be weak ties, there are so many more opportunities with social media now that were not present before. An important one to point out from the Tufekci and Wilson reading is the opportunity it creates for women. While three-fourths of the population at the first protest in Egypt was male, a fourth was female. This is in a country where political activism is barely ever a thought for women. They were able to reach out to one another online because regulating the Internet can be difficult and they could maintain secrecy.
Another outweighing factor for the weak ties that was briefly mentioned before is the amount of coverage citizens were able to upload onto the Internet, right from their cell phones. This is just one of many ways social media empowered the protesters. Can you point out other ways presented in the readings this week that help overshadow the problem of weak ties that Gladwell explains?