Citizens As Journalists During the Arab Spring

The impact of social media on the Arab Spring was undeniable. As totalitarian governments restricted personal communication between their citizens, social media gave citizens an outlet to express their discontent with the government and connect with others over their grievances. Facebook, Twitter, and cell phones were used to share photos and disseminate messages to vast audiences both within those countries and abroad. I would argue that the most notable impact of social media and technology on the Arab Spring was the way in which it facilitated the role of citizens as journalists. As discussed in Howard and Hussain’s “The Role of Digital Media” and Tufekci and Wilson’s “Social Media and the Decision to Participate in Political Protest: Observations From Tahrir Square”, the journalistic role of citizen witnesses was essential to the success of these revolutions. 

Social media and camera phones allowed people to immediately capture and spread photos and videos from the protests to their various networks. According to Tufekci and Wilson’s study, almost half of their participants claimed that they had produced and disseminated pictures or videos. The majority of these respondents acted using Facebook or their phones, while e-mail lagged as one of the least-used methods of communication. Furthermore, Howard and Hussain’s article claimed that people especially used social media and phones to show their own personal involvement in the protests. It is interesting that people were so likely to publicly display their own activities in the protests, despite the fact that such activity was of such a high risk under these totalitarian regimes. It seems as though social media and technology served as a buffer between the protestors and the government, allowing the protestors to more openly express themselves without fear of being persecuted. Technology gave citizens the autonomy to participate and record the protests freely and to a mass audience, which is of extreme importance. The various attempts of the government to suppress communication and social media use backfired, as citizens found ways around these restrictions and utilized social media with even greater comfort.

We have discussed the notion that social media often encourages “slactivism”. Do you think that the behavior of protestors in these revolutions was slactivist in that much action came in the form of sharing photos or sending texts? Or did social media and technology encourage activists to participate in the protests with greater freedom than ever? Also, when talking about politics, we have referred to e-mail as the most efficient mode of mass digital communication, however Tufekici and Wilson argue that this was not the case during these protests. Why do you think that is?

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3 Responses to Citizens As Journalists During the Arab Spring

  1. awildkristenappeared says:

    I thought you provided a great analysis and comparison for the readings this week, but I think it’s important to recognize the differences between Egypt, Libya and Tunisia in regards to the political climate. You wrote, “It is interesting that people were so likely to publicly display their own activities in the protests, despite the fact that such activity was of such a high risk under these totalitarian regimes” but the governments are extremely different. Anderson’s reading “Demistifying the Arab Spring” cites Egypt for example, which actually is pretty open to free expression. Perhaps people just feel safer using social media regardless (considering e-mail was one of the least used mediums) and it doesn’t matter under which regime they reside. I’d be curious to know how social media use in voicing dissent led to arrests or other retribution from an autocracy. Thanks!

  2. cwcullen says:

    I really liked your emphasis on the role that normal people played in conveying the news during the Arab Spring. It is very interesting to see how far we have come with technology. In the digital era people no longer just listen to news, they can actively participate by sharing their own thoughts and opinions through social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. It is interesting to see normal citizens playing such a key role in such an important series or uprisings throughout the Arab World. I wonder how things would have turned out before the digital era when people wouldn’t have been able to post videos of the riots. Would the uprisings have drawn the same amount of attention from the western world?

  3. jnzucker says:

    In the past, we have used slacktivism to talk about low-risk activism through social media outlets like posting a status or signing a petition. I feel as though the Arab Spring’s protestors pushed this idea further, as participants documented the movement through photos and videos. This in itself is different from slacktivism, as normal citizens took on the role of journalists and used their own experiences to show the world what was happening. In a totalitarian society, particularly under a suppressive regime, one’s every move is monitored. However, I do agree, that social media outlets allowed for people to openly express themselves without fear of being punished or in trouble. Like Caroline mentioned, I think it would be really interesting to see how the Arab Spring revolutions would have been documented and presented to the Western World without first-hand accounts from participants of the movement.

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