This weeks readings centered around the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, with a particular focus on how social media technology played a role in this unique revolution. In Howard’s article The Upheavals in Egypt and Tunisia: The Role of Digital Media, it is stressed that this revolution is distinct from those that came before it because of the utilization of the Internet, mobile phones and social media. Howard stresses that these technologies allowed activists to build networks, create social capital and organize their political action. He notes that participants weren’t necessarily moved by the technology, but rather, the technology provided “scaffolding upon which civil society can build” (48).
Anderson’s article, Demystifying the Arab Spring, takes a slightly different approach to understanding this unique revolution. This article details how each country’s situation lent itself to revolution—Tunisia had a large generational gap between the uprising young generation and the older leadership, Egypt had an unusually high tolerance for free expression and Libya was a divided country and needed a foundation for state formation. Anderson seems to challenge Howard by saying that these situations are not important because of social media’s ability normalize civic engagement in the three countries as one unit. She says, rather, that these revolutions were made possible because of the ways in which each individual society’s aspirations and desires for change empowered each local group. She seems to agree with Howard that youth sharing ideas and organizing on social media was a factor in this revolutionary movement, however, he maintains that this platform alone was not responsible for the change and that each country must be treated as a separate case.
These somewhat contradicting theories beg an important question: Aside from the existence of a social media platform, what other factors need to be in existence in order for revolution or uprising to take place? Does the platform alone cause a change in the way these uprisings happen, or does it have to b e accompanied by a societal change as well?