Social Media and Arab Spring

The Arab Spring seems to be the perfect example of how social media gave rise to the individual as journalist by providing the people with a mode of communication that the regime could not control.  On many levels, this is very true.  In Egypt in particular, new forms of communication such as Facebook, Twitter and cell phones were the main influences behind convincing protestors to show up the first day, and the reason these protests increased in size and ferocity.

According to Tufeku and Wilson’s study of protestors’ communication capabilities, almost 30% of people who showed up to the first protest on January 25, 2011 heard about it through Facebook, outdone only by face to face communication, which accounted for 48%.  After that, 13% of people were informed of the protest by cell phone, and considering that showing up to a small, unpublicized and unsuccessful protest could have cost any one person his or her life, the fact that all these people trusted enough in their form of communication and their numbers is a feat in itself.  Without modern day social networks and technology, only about 50% of protestors would have heard about the event, much less actually showed up to it.  This study also showed that participation in the protests over the weeks was strongly associated with patterns of media use, and that nearly half of the protestors streamed live photo or video from the protest; putting themselves on the line to become individual journalists.

Given these facts, it may seem strange that in her essay Demystifying the Arab Spring, Lisa Anderson claims that “global diffusion is not a result of the internet or social media.” She argues that what we should take away from the revolts in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya is not how activists used technology to share ideas, but rather why these techniques worked in their various local contexts based on the peoples’ ambitions.  I think that her opening thought may be misleading, because it seems not as if she’s denying that technology played a role in these revolutions, but rather attempting to shift the focus away from the process of how these revolutions happened to why they did.

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