The Arab Spring: Did social media really “revolutionize” the revolution?

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?

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3 Responses to The Arab Spring: Did social media really “revolutionize” the revolution?

  1. ksoisson says:

    I think there are two factors aside from social media that are key to an uprising. The first is that the cause has to be great enough for a there to be a reason for a revolution. If there is great enough awareness of grievances, this will increase the chance of success. Social media does help this though by more easily spreading awareness. The second factor is that a government must be fairly unaware of what is happening. We saw in class which countries have had success and which have failed. The countries that have succeeded are those that had governments that did not know how to combat revolutions. Social media still played a role here though as well.

  2. Kyle says:

    I think there are many factors surrounding social media platforms that need to be present in order for an uprising to successfully happen. Leading that list, though, is the idea that all those participating are working towards a common goal, and are heavily invested in the processes surrounding that goal. Our readings from last week criticized social media for lacking a hierarchy and having no filter to weed out those participants who are much less invested, so I think this is an essential factor. The second factor I think is really important, as mentioned previously, is the involvement of the government. As we discussed in class if the government is well versed in these social media platforms, or has ultimate control over the country’s internet infrastructure, like in Iran, it can be even more difficult to organize such an uprising.

    To answer the second question, I doubt that the social media platform can cause any type of significant changes alone, as many of the readings argue. I do think though that as the internet progresses and social media platforms become more comprehensive and user friendly there is a potential to be able to organize efficiently and have these structural hierarchies that social media is lacking, in relation to uprisings.

  3. Pingback: Introduction | Media

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