In the articles for this week, we witness two very different perspectives on the role of social media in the Arab Spring. We see two very different perspective in the readings as Lisa Anderson argues that the three uprisings that comprise the Arab Spring (Libya, Egypt and Tunisia) would all have occurred without the digital media tools. Conversely, Howard and Hussein conclude that social media was determinant in the success of the Arab Spring movements. Although the exact role that social media, played is difficult to define, it seems difficult to deny that, at the very least, SNS promoted growing awareness and animosity towards the respective governments, propelling the movements towards reaching their tipping points.
Lisa Anderson argues that the social media was not the determining factor in the uprisings in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. She points to the successful revolutions in the Middle East prior to the inception of the Internet as evidence that social media cannot be credited for the successful revolution in 2011. According to Anderson, the revolution would have succeeded regarded because of the broader societal trends in Egypt. Howard and Hussein make a fundamentally opposite argument, concluding that social media played a critical role in the revolutions. It is nearly impossible to determine the exact impact of social media or whether the same outcome would have occurred if social media were not an available tool. Based on the heavily reliance on social media for gather support (both local and international), coordinating offline protests and maintaining far greater levels of anonymity than would have been possible offline, it is clear that social media played an integral role if its operationalization was not a determining factor.
As Shirky explains, “There is no such thing as an inherently good tool.” Instead, there are tools with specific affordances that can be positive tools in specific contexts and part of a larger strategic campaign. In this case, social media seemed to be an ideal tool as it was used for nearly every aspect of the revolutions. Unfortunately, that does not merit the conclusion that the digital tools ‘caused’ the revolution. While I personally think it is neglectful to claim that the revolutions could definitely have occurred without social media when there are so many societal factors that determine whether a revolution is possible and the best tools for coordinating the revolutionary efforts within the specific context.