Sunday, 6 January 2013

Technology, Media and the Arab Spring

By Jessica Martin




People are powerful, and people using social media as a way to publicize events in History is becoming more and more common. It’s 2010 and a revolution is taking place, known famously as the “Arab Springs”. People came together in countries such as Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen to fight a political battle and caused an uprising. The whole thing has been splashed over various social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, and there has been no escaping it. There have been so many dramatic events since the uprising two years ago, and coverage has been prominent. It has changed so fast and no one could have imagined this happening. Even with live news feeds reaching out to the rest of the world, I believe there was really a social revolution and it did affect the outcome of the whole uprising thus far.

 It all started in 2010. Take street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi, who represented a generation of jobless and unemployed Arabs. Prospects were scarce for these young men, and they wanted to do something about it. Unemployed Arabs made up 60% of the population and they were what started the uprising. It must be unimaginable to have that many young, potential happy people living in such misery with nothing to get up for in the morning, and the political leaders were not helping the case. Something needed to be done, fast. In a bid to mark his disgust at the way his country and fellow peers where heading, he set himself on fire in protest. This was the final straw. Even Feyda Hamdi is said to have provoked this young man’s suicide. You could say, this event and date (17th December 2010), kicked off the whole revolution. The world was shocked at this young man’s actions.

Protests soon followed Bouazizi’s actions, and people wanted to topple the current Arab regime. The people were angry. Not only where jobs low, but the price of food and general living was rising. They took to the streets holding up banners and protesting in vast numbers. Soon, images started to appear over Twitter and Facebook. People from all over the world had now access to images that merely around 20 years before, would not have been possible. They were starting to cause a complete national mayhem whilst getting their point across. Protests soon continued into other countries such as Egypt, all wanting to challenge the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. With all the word on the street, America soon got involved. They wanted to take “all necessary measure” to protect the civilians in Libya, and within days soon war had broke out. Bombs were being dropped and Gaddafi’s forces felt the wrath of the angry, dissatisfied people. It wasn’t long before one of the dictators; Gaddafi was finally killed by rebel fighters. It was an amazing moment in history and well deserved.
 More major events in history soon followed, with President Saleh leaving Yemen, and 33 years of power behind his belt leaving. This was on the 22nd of January 2012. All was not perfect though, as he left a mess behind which had to be cleared up. Moving onto Egypt’s first free presidential election, Mohammed Morsi won in June 2012. There are a lot of huge political and economic challenges which are still being faced today.

 The Arab springs has a long way to go before everything is perfect, however the last few years have been so important in the revolution and uprising thanks to the people of the countries involved. Just how did social media have an impact in all that has happened over the last few years? And how has it helped civilians in their fight against harsh regimes and bad standards of life?


 Facebook allows people to get together and discuss many different ideas and it has a mass audience. It would be easy to publicly spread the word on such a site like Facebook. It was said that during the revolt, however, Facebook accounts where even being shut down and certain individuals sharing information were targeted. With regards to showing images and gaining publicity in that way, would be YouTube. Photographs, videos and even people recording their own personal opinion on the site would spread quickly. It is the fastest growing video site available at the moment, and it is free to use which would really help get “free” publicity out. More examples of social media that is revolutionising the world is Linkedin. This allows users to connect with different people all over the world, and, like Twitter allows people to see what subjects are popular and trending.

 Activists claim they can influence the media with the power of online social media. The television in countries such as Egypt is monitored by the government, however creating things like credible blogs, tweeting important information and even the filming of protests and putting them on websites such as YouTube can influence the outside world and media. Video cameras could be seen in many of the protests, and in my opinion this spoke louder than any words ever could. Citizens would tweet stories to journalists all over the world, which in turn created mass publicity outside of their country. The media gives people voices they never had before, and if used correctly can be extremely powerful. Low cost videos and documentation of protests can shape the media and what may be portrayed in certain ways. Some images were very shocking, such as pictures of people dying or getting shot and covered in blood. I feel this was a smart moved and very powerful, as it got the point across that it was inhumane what was happening over there are something did need to be done about it. Images can be more powerful than words, and people such as the communities in Egypt soon realised this. They decided to train members of the community into using such things such as low cost video cameras and projectors to make a difference. They hoped to influence their audience on a global scale. It helped activists communicate and organise their actions throughout the revolt, and some people will forever say that the power of social media in such circumstances was crucial. The digital and physical world in the last few years has been just as important, and despite many of the opposing leaders trying to stop civilians communicating with the outside world through means such as Face book and Twitter, there is a such a wide variety of people on the sites these days and one picture posted could really make a difference. Despite the dangers some people put themselves in order to blog and reach a wider audience, word still got out and networked throughout the country in a much easier way than propaganda television shows or newspapers ever could.

 However, some people argue that social media did not help the revolution. Powerful people could spy on social media really easily, and work out their next plan of action or regime. It kept people under a watchful eye, and some people believe this was not a good thing. Sceptics also argue that only 5% of Egyptians even use Facebook or Twitter, and in comparison to the population that is not very much. Could the information people are sending out be dramatised or biased? Hackers can turn things around, track people down and watch their every movement.

 So how does social media work?
There are three interrelated dimensions within social media. Firstly, there is the personal dimension. This focuses on relationships between individuals, and people who are friends, enemies or even work colleagues can keep up to date over personal social networking. Secondly, there is the digital terrain which is also known as the information terrain. This is the moving of data throughout the world instantly and cheaply, which is extremely important in countries such as the Arab Spring where not much money is available at hand. Finally, there is global terrain, (also known as the geospatial terrain). This is when an individual’s location affects their social access and can determine which information they can obtain. Manipulating these terrains can influence control and outcome.
 Twitter has been known to organise protest groups. In 2011 evidence and an analysis of twitter suggested that the crowd self-organised by the mobile world of Twitter. The crowed had been tracking each other through twitter, and as it uses GPS it was really useful for tactical and operation support during the uprising. Twitter evidence around this time shows a lot of communication and information swapping via the site and it help mobilize crowds in the street. It allowed them to find each other in a way that has never been seen before. The same could be said for Facebook, Youtube and other similar sites.

 Mobile phones allowed live footage to be streamed, and sharing it was almost instant. This means that protests could be extremely easily planned with the touch of a button, and no one needs to know when and where it will be held until the day. There is clear evidence tweets and social interaction rose between people. It is important to remember that not all the protesters were connected nor had Internet connection. With a small few, it’s surprising to see how useful social media impacted not only their fellow peers but the rest of the world. With media swelling, the more protesters appeared.

 To conclude, I feel social media really did help in the Arab Spring revolution evolve. I actually think it played a major key part, and that social media is extremely powerful these days. It can be powerful for the right or wrong reasons, however. It is important that the world learnt about what was going on and it got the word out quicker than hear say. It was used in the correct way, and is forever growing. It will become more and more successful in the future in my opinion, however people have to be careful about sharing too much information as you don’t know who is following you or reading what you are writing. As time goes on I feel more and more people will be able to access Internet and influence the media. It is forever a fast moving movement and will continue to grow; causing everyday people to have more power and say in what happens in their life and to their country. The media is becoming more “person” biased instead of world leaders taking control and having the power. With the way their country was run before the revolution, any change can be a good change and I do feel we have social media to thank for that.

1 comment:

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