In the Western world, Twitter and Facebook might have a uninspiring reputation. This isn’t hard to believe when the daily top trends often include Ariana Grande. Or that the most retweeted photo of all time was a selfie of Ellen and several others actors at the Oscars in an obvious Samsung advertisement. But to many other people around the globe, especially those in politically contentious regions, social media is revolutionary.
Citizens of nations involved in the Arab Spring actually used social media sites such as Twitter to mass organise protests and upload politically contentious content. In fact, social media has played a large role in nearly all protests since the Arab Spring. As Howard et al. states, “After analysing over 3 million tweets, gigabytes of YouTube content and thousands of blog posts… social media played a central role in shaping political debates in the Arab Spring.” (Howard et al. 2011).
This is similarly addressed in the video below.
As Cohen states, social media “allowed citizens to fill a gap that was left by mainstream media, where mainstream media was late to arrive” (ForaTv 2011). As such, the unprecedented level of immediacy in communicating information across international borders, whether it be images such as of Mohammed Bouazizi in the Arab Spring protests in Tunisia (ForaTv 2011), or videos of the riots in Turkey during #OccupyGezi.
The extent of the impact social media has had on these recent political revolutions is arguable. Obviously the real work is taken to the streets, but the immediacy of social media has given protesters a tool to organise and aggregate attention to their cause. And the effectiveness is obviously significant, so much so that governments of these protesting regions have tried to ban social media sites such as twitter. For instance, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan labelled Twitter a “menace” and an “extreme version of lying” (BBC 2013). Then, during the upcoming election in March 2014, Turkey banned both Twitter and YouTube (Ozbilgin & Coskun 2014). It is evident that the Arab Spring (and the many protests consequent) are a phenomena of social revolution, whereby social media has become as essential to a protester as a picketing sign and a microphone.
BBC 2013, ‘Turkey protests: Third day of anti-government unrest’, BBC, 2 June, viewed 28 September 2014, <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-22744728>.
Howard, P.N., Duffy, A., Freelon, D., Hussain, M., Mari, W. & Mazaid, M. 2011, ‘Opening Closed Regimes: What Was the Role of Social Media During the Arab Spring?’, viewed 28 September 2014, <http://ictlogy.net/bibliography/reports/projects.php?idp=2170>.
Ozbilgen, O & Coskun, O 2014, ‘Turkey lifts twitter ban after court ruling’, Reuters, 3 April, viewed 28 September 2014, <http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/03/us-turkey-twitter-idUSBREA320E120140403>.
Ellen DeGeneres, 2014, Image, Twitter, 2 March, viewed 28 September 2014, <https://twitter.com/TheEllenShow/status/440322224407314432>.
Technology’s Role in the Arab Spring Protests 2011, video, ForaTv, July 8, viewed 28 September 2014, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZwNb11n9zk>.