Social Media & Activism: The Arab Spring

Warning: potential unsettling content and imagery

The Arab Spring is a term expressing the revolutionary movements in 2010, which began in the Arab region. What made the Arab Spring so distinctive was the utilisation of social media to promote uprising agendas, as these were the first collective movements in the Middle East since Internet and social media revolutions. Western perceptions of the Arab Spring surround ideas of social media being the driving force. However, the initial trigger for the protests was in 2010, when authorities shut down Mohamed Bouazizi’s business and physically harassed him. As a result he lit himself on fire in front of a Tunisian government building, a form of protest or sacrifice known as “self-immolation”. This sparked immediate uprisings in Tunisia, and then spread to many other countries in the region.

mohamed-bouazizi-tunisie
A journal article by Richard Lindsey (2013) explores the significance of social media during the Arab Spring, allowing individuals to influence public opinion and gain international support through the global distribution of news. Lindsey assures that techniques and procedures via social media will affect future revolutionary tactics in globalised societies, however the degree to which is questionable. Research by Wolfsfeld, Segev and Sheafer (2013) uses the Arab Spring as a case study to define the role of social media within a more general theoretical structure. The study examines two theoretical principles; that we cannot comprehend the function of social media without considering the political environment in which they operate, and that an increase in social media doesn’t necessarily prompt significant events – but follows them.

women arab spring

Newsom and Lengel (2012) investigate the use of social networks by Arab feminist activists. The online engagement was intended to aid social change, and assisting to remove the psychological barrier of fear for Arab civilians by connecting and sharing information. The consistent flow of news provided a sense of reassurance that they are not alone, and that there are others experiencing hardship, prejudice, and similar accounts of brutality. Professor of mass communications from Cairo, Hussein Amin, stated that social networks ‘for the first time provided activists with an opportunity to quickly disseminate information while bypassing government restrictions’ (Kassim, 2012). It is important to understand that social networking platforms were not the reason for the Arab Spring but function as a significant communication tool, at present and for future revolutions.

References:

Kassim, S 2012, Twitter Revolution: How the Arab Spring was helped by social media, PolicyMic, weblog post, 3 July, viewed 8 May 2014, <http://www.policymic.com/articles/10642/twitter-revolution-how-the-arab-spring-was-helped-by-social-media&gt;

Lindsey, RA 2013, ‘What the Arab Spring Tells Us About the Future of Social Media in Revolutionary Movements’, Small Wars Journal, vol. 9, no. 7

Newsom, V & Lengel, L 2012, ‘Arab Women, Social Media, and the Arab Spring: Applying the framework of digital reflexivity to analyze gender and online activism’,Journal of International Women’s Studies, vol. 13, no. 5, pp31-45

Wolfsfeld, G, Segev, E, Sheafer, T 2013, ‘Social Media and the Arab Spring: Politics Comes First’, The International Journal of Press/Politics, vol. 18, no. 2, pp115-137

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