How to take down a Government using 140 characters


PHOTO: Ellen’s Oscar selfie. Most retweeted photo of all time, and elaborate Samsung advertisement.

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, <;.

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, <;.

Ozbilgen, O & Coskun, O 2014, ‘Turkey lifts twitter ban after court ruling’, Reuters, 3 April, viewed 28 September 2014, <;.

Ellen DeGeneres, 2014, Image, Twitter, 2 March, viewed 28 September 2014, <;.

Technology’s Role in the Arab Spring Protests 2011, video, ForaTv, July 8, viewed 28 September 2014, <;.


13 thoughts on “How to take down a Government using 140 characters

  1. Your mention of the power of social media presents in filling the gap left by an absence of mainstream media is discussed in some more depth in this article investigating the role of social media in the 2011 Egyptian revolution at the Arab Media Forum: In the article they discuss an interesting paradox about this gap, they highlight that whilst being empowered, it also leaves them feeling powerless in only being able to tell the world what is happening rather than potentially promote engagement with the wider global community. This was obviously further accentuated when there was marginal engagement when these sources did arrive.

  2. In the case of the Arab spring I feel social media was used rather effectively. Although I find in western culture Twitter is to Civic Engagement as birthday cards are to Committed Relationships. Generally one of the pitfalls of social media is that people begin to believe that they’re actually engaged in authentic discourse when in fact, they’re doing the Internet equivalent of air kisses. This simplification, of course only works in some circumstances. For example the Kony 2012 campaign.

  3. I can understand your argument of social media having a serious impact on matters of public and political interest, however, I can also resonate with the comment above. The concept of ‘clicktivism’ or ‘slacktivism’ can be thrown around to define these audiences that ‘like’ a photo or ‘share’ a post, but these acts are literally just ‘feel-good’ acts and are not contributing to the serious issues of society.

  4. Your introduction to this weeks post made me giggle! Using a lighthearted approach was a good tactic considering it’s such a serious topic. You did a great job at delineating the main facets of this topic, including an extensive use of references and a clear explanation of how the immediacy of social media has given protesters a tool to organise and aggregate attention to their cause. Also, the mention of the ‘slacktivism’ concept mentioned by other commenters is tied in well to this concept and its interesting to see conflicting perspectives on whether or not a like or a retweet is considered as lazy or supportive.

  5. Well written post! I like how you compare the use of social media platforms between the western world and developing nations, because there is such a difference. It just goes to show how these platforms run on such a simple premise which is then picked up and manipulated and molded by users in varying contexts. Your post was constructed well and had good examples. nice one!

  6. Great post. I loved your casual and relatable introduction to a serious, worldly issue to keep readers engaged and interested.
    The selection of sources and quotes you’ve used are good evidence of research and understanding what you’re writing about, well done. I really like how you’ve distinguished the use of social media between the Western world and other war/poverty-stricken countries. In context of these other countries, I would have to agree with your conclusion, especially after reading this article where Twitter is defined as both a spark and accelerant in the Arab Spring.

  7. I enjoyed this post immensely – it really just flowed and was straight to the point. I found I rambled a bit this week, so this was a breath of fresh air!
    The sources you have used are a fantastic example of your continuous well-rounded research. By introducing the very Westernised view of Twitter in your opening, I immediately related to the post even without the benefit of studying DIGC202!

    As we have seen with the use of Facebook for organising help and protest aid in the Ukraine for #EuroMaidan, social media platforms can indeed be hugely beneficial as a tool to share information away from the watchful eye of officials. But as you mentioned in your introduction, as Twitter has that celebrity factor and a mass of useless content, Facebook too can be awash with spam, irrelevant information and trolls.

    The point about mass media being “late to arrive” is a really interesting one, and something that could be linked to our discussions of the rise of the citizen journalist. It makes us rethink how we are going to get our news, who we will trust for news and what will count as a platform most suited to news content.

  8. This is a great comment on how the media seems to always heap awareness on the more inconsequential stories whereas people in these conflicts now hold the power to usurp this through their own self broadcast. Inthe world before twitter, such uprisings would rarely see the light of day let alone be seen by many people due to media control and suppression. That is why these tools are so important and why greater awareness should be held by more people in the western world.

  9. I love your title. Great blog. I agree that the impact of social media on those political revolutions is up for discussion. If you consider social media in comparison to the protester with his sign and microphone, yes it’s been amazingly effective.
    There’s always the argument that it’s easy to sit behind a computer and be an activist than be in the thick of the cause. It’s another step to open your wallet and to commit more than a minute of your life to a cause. This kind of contrast is explored by White’s article ( which is also just generally a good read 🙂

  10. In the cases of Arab Spring, we can see how citizen journalism sets the agenda for mainstream media such as BBC and CNN who aired photographs/ video footage captured and uploaded by protesters (citizen journalists) themselves in both Egypt and Libya. As mainstream media journalists are denied access into those countries during the Arab Spring, mainstream media relied on the contents uploaded on social media. Furthermore, citizen journalists in these conflict-ridden countries relied on mainstream media to report the turmoil to the world.
    This form of inter-dependence between mainstream media and citizen journalists shows that both can co-exist to bring the latest news to the world.


    Ali, SR & Fahmy, S 2013, ‘Gatekeeping and citizen journalism: The use of social media during the recent uprisings in Iran, Egypt and Libya’, Media, War & Conflict, vol.6, no.1, pp55-69, accessed 6/4/2014, SAGE Publications.

  11. This is a really itneresting post, particularly your notion that social media “allows citizens to fill a gap that was left by mainstream media, where mainstream media was late to arrive”. In any case, I read in another great blog that the social space we believe to be essential to democratic life may not actually exist or if it does, it may not exist where we think it does which is further interesting food for thought. Would love to hear your thoughts on this 🙂

  12. It’s an interesting concept to think about, when you consider the ability to connect for millions of individuals on any given topic without restraint. It enables movements to be mobilised like never before, however ultimately it can be very easy to simply ‘re-tweet’ or ‘like’ and think your job is done.

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