The Arab Spring, even with the radical differences between countries as Anderson points out, was largely influenced by social media and networking with available technologies. While reviewing the arguments presented in these readings, Clay Shirky’s idea of collective action should be considered. In Here Comes Everybody, Shirky argues that social media has demolished transaction costs and so aids in collective action of groups leading to more civic involvement.
Anderson argues in “Demystifying the Arab Spring” that it is important to take away from the Arab Spring is not how the activists “used technology to share ideas and tactics”, but “how and why these ambitions and techniques resonated in their various local context”. She compares and contrasts the demonstrations in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya based on the conditions of the country, economic status, relationship to the government and military, and challenges they face in the future. Anderson argues that although we are quick to say the demonstrations were part of one “Arab Spring”, there are significant differences to be aware of in each country. She argues that these differences and not social media shaped the outcomes of the respective movements.
However, Howard and Hussain point out in their article, “The Role of Digital Media”, that in this area “dissent existed long before the Internet”, yet “digital media helped to turn individualized, localized, and community-specific dissent into a structured movement with a collective consciousness about both shared plights and opportunities for action”. This paper agrees with Shirky when it argues that the technology available allowed for those interested in human rights and issues in their governments to create networks and “organize political action”. The dramatic death of Mohamed Bouazizi’s in 2010 spread quickly and sparked action and individuals were communicating in ways that the state had trouble controlling. Howard and Hussain argue, “Digital media became the tool that allowed social movements to reach once-unachievable goals”.
It is hard not to think of Morozov and Gladwell who point out the downsides to social media in these efforts and that “social media can’t provide what social change has always required”, which is strong ties and hierarchical and strategic organization. Although these networks were proven to be resilient and adaptable, were they able to think strategically and avoid conflict and error? Do you think these demonstrations would have happened or been effective if people could not communicate via social media?