Tag Archives: Arab Spring

#hastag Activism: Does it Work?

Twitter has been widely credited with being a driving force in the Arab Spring uprisings of the early 2010s and for good reason – twitter allows individuals to rapidly disseminate information and to spread opinions and views quickly. While few dispute its previous impact on international events, does twitter activism work when it comes to less dire circumstances?

Recently, noted comedian Stephen Colbert came under fire for an incentive and out-of-context tweet regarding asians. A twitter fire-storm ensued, with #CancelColbert trending across the nation. Ultimately, Colbert’s show was not effected in the slightest – he was even given a promotion to replace David Letterman on The Late Show on CBS.

What does this say about Twitters influence on activism. The Wall Street Journal claimed that “Twitter may be the most powerful amplifier for individual voices that history has ever produced” but then acknowledged that its 140-character limit can be its biggest downfall. In the case of the Colbert situation, in which the original quote was taken out of context from a joke poking fun at the Washington Redskins, this was certainly the case. #Hastag activism will continue to be a driving force in world events, yet its lack of depth may inhibit the proper amounts of information to be spread

Social Media in the 2013 Brazilian Protests

This week in class, we have talked about the power of social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook in fostering revolutionary activity, especially during the Arab Spring. According to the study done by Howard et. al., social media helped shape political debates in the Arab Spring and discussions on sites such as Facebook often immediately preceded major protests on the ground. Use of social media also helped garner international support for the movements in the Middle East. An interesting case to compare to the Arab Spring is the recent protests in Brazil that have actively used social media, especially Twitter and Facebook. The protests started when the government raised bus fares in some of Brazil’s major cities, but soon spread to critiquing other issues, especially the government’s excessive spending building massive stadiums for the upcoming World Cup and Olympic Games in Brazil. The protesters are mostly middle-class, educated, and under the age of 30. It is interesting to compare these protests to the Arab Spring because they have used social media in similar ways. Like the Arab Spring movement, young Brazilian protesters have used social media sites to coordinate events and spread their message internationally. However, unlike the Arab Spring, the Brazilian protests are not directed against any one leader in particular and their demands are not as concrete. In an NBC News article, Caroline Stauffer reports that social media has not only helped coordinate the actions of the Brazilian protesters, but it has only splintered the movement in some ways. She cites the fact that the movement has no clear leadership. Social media allows these young protesters to coordinate anonymously and without a defined group of people at the head of the movement. This has caused some confusion within the movement, and some of the protests have turned violent, with police using tear gas and rubber bullets to stop demonstrators. I think that this case is especially interesting because it shows that social media can be a democratic way to organize protests and spread a message, but that it also has the potential to fragment a movement due to a lack of a clear leadership base or concrete demands. Social media is a very new tool in organizing revolutions, and it is important to take into account all of its possible advantages and disadvantages.



The Guardian’s Interactive Arab Spring Twitter-Map


As those who followed the events of the Arab Spring are well aware, social media played a pivotal role in the development of the Arab uprisings that took place in 2011 and which continue to unfold today. In the revolutions of the last two years within various Arab states, social media has functioned as an organizational tool for protest leaders, a forum for government propaganda, and a vehicle for igniting discontent, anger, and ideas of freedom and liberation. The fluidity of knowledge and information afforded by our present-day social media technologies is seen by many as a major catalyst in the success of the revolutions that took place in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya.

One of the more interesting and novel tools I’ve found which emphasizes these points is an interactive map of the Middle East, created by The Guardian UK, which posts real-time tweets from Arab states undergoing revolution or political reform. The map went online in August of 2011 and is perpetually updated, maintaining a constant stream of both fact and opinion about political goings-on in countries such as Tunisia, Syria, Egypt and Yemen. The map includes tweets from bloggers, journalists and citizens in both Arab states and the Western world, and the tweets often contain links to outside news articles, revolutionary websites and other resources. The BBC is not the only news source to publish some permutation of an Arab Spring Twitter map, but theirs is the most reliable and up-to-date that’s also available in English. The variety of the perspectives offered as well as the real-time applicability of these tweets provide a fun, interactive lens for keeping up with the ongoing developments of the Arab Spring in real-time. Additionally, the map instills a sense of the importance of Twitter and similar platforms in the spread of revolutionary ideas which ignited and then fueled the Arab Spring revolutions.


Social Media and the Arab Spring: A New Revolution

This week in class, we discussed how social media can affect development. We examined how ordinary people were becoming activists during the Arab Spring through the use of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. We also discussed how in Syria, ordinary citizens have transformed into amateur journalists through uploading content onto the internet. Upon examining these concepts further, I found this interesting YouTube video, that shows viewers how to livestream content with slow internet. 

The Arab Spring has created a new wave of internet content, that focuses social media in a way that is not merely for entertainment, but as a news source. Not only has this created new content, but it has globalized the protests in the Arab Spring. For example, famous activist/hacker group Anonymous helped keep the internet online in Syria, despite the Syrian government’s attempts to shut it down.

Social media has personalized the internet through adding a human factor that can connect millions of people from across the world, or just thousands in one country–as seen in the Arab Spring. This revolution of communication begs the question: what happens next?

Tunisia: e-activism and the role of ICTs

Last week’s discussions pertaining to policy development and strategic planning got me thinking about a very unique country insofar as this topic is concerned. Tunisia, a small North African country, is best known for having undergone a revolution that ignited the ‘Arab Spring.’

Well, last spring I had the pleasure of studying abroad in Tunisia almost exactly one year after the country had just become newly independent from the former dictator Zine ben Ali. Almost every Tunisian I met is connected in some way as far as social media is concerned – most commonly with facebook. It is now understood that had it not been for these social networking tools, Tunisians would not have taken to the streets and demanded for change. Ironically, the government used these tools as ways to keep the public quiet – but obviously that was not enough.

After the revolution, there has been a tremendous boom in how Tunisians communicate and debate about the future of the country. ICTs have enabled doors to be opened to groups previously unable to participate in social activism. Groups in the southern part of the country who were the marginalized poor are now making their voices heard, thanks to ICTs that before were only accessed by select groups of people who were well educated and trained to navigate the murky waters of a censored internet.

In a report titled “Tunisia: From Revolutions to Insitutions,” authors Zack Brisson and Kate Krontiris cite this phenomena as “e-activism” which is evidence of a newly robust civil society. Many of these activists seek to change the political atmosphere in the country depending on their platforms (ex: traditional versus progressive, islam versus secular), and are using the internet as their tool. In response to these individuals and groups, the Tunisian Internet Agency, TIA, (which before was the agency responsible for censoring) is now engaging with – rather than harassing – activists.

The report covers a broad range of topics related to post-revolutionary Tunisia and where it is headed, but the one overarching theme is the role that ICTs have had in transforming civil society. This is just one example of what having the infrastructure and development in place can do for a country’s ability to use ICT as a tool for democratization.

Hurricane Sandy and how Social Media influences Information Dissemination

Our guest speaker this week talked about the different ways social media and ICTs can be used in a disaster setting, and, since it was extremely topical, how these technologies played a role in Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath. One thing that we talked about in class that was interesting, was how things like twitter and facebook were key in getting information to people who were experiencing the hurricane, as well as to their family and friends elsewhere. Those two platforms also played a role in disseminating false information about the hurricane, its severity, and the aftermath. There were photoshopped pictures floating around, false rumors about sharks in lower manhattan, and just absurd tales in general coming both from the outside and causing hysteria for those there.

One of the benefits of things like facebook and twitter, especially in places like Syria and other regions of the middle east where most things could be censored and/or monitored by the government, is that these websites are completely a part of the private sector, and peoples opinions and thoughts can be voiced completely freely and unencumbered by fear of censorship. This has been incredibly useful in situations like the uprisings during the Arab Spring, but can be disastrous in an emergency setting. The amount of fake stories and pictures before, during, and after Sandy were extremely detrimental. Not only did they increase the amount of general hysteria among the population, but some such articles and pictures were gotten a hold of by the mainstream press, causing more hysteria not only in the effected area but all over the country as people were getting false information about what was really happening. It doesnt seem clear what effect it had on relief efforts, since organizations like FEMA and the Red Cross were relying on more reliable sources such as government publications or direct reports from the ground. It doesnt seem clear how possible it is for facebook or twitter to develop a way to verify information that has been posted without infringing on people’s basic rights, but there needs to be something done to lessen the amount of false information flying around, especially in disaster situations where it could end up exacerbating the stress of everyone involved.

YouTube’s Rising Political Relevance

As we explored through our reading of Opening Closed Regimes; What Was the Role of Social Media During the Arab Spring? YouTube became a particularly important tool for spreading news and information of Egypt’s uprising the form of user-generated videos around the world. Research conducted through this work identifies the top viral videos as of June 2011. While it is difficult to quantify the exact impact of these videos on audiences, it can be seen that some images of suffering would have prompted protests and spurred protests and heightened moral outrage. After reading about the effect of these videos, I thought it might be interesting to explore some of the videos, as the article provides an appendix.

The video which received the most youtube attention is entitled:
The Most AMAZING video on the Internet #Egypt #jan25

Since  January 27, 2011 the video has received over 2,450,037 views (about 300,000 more since the publication of the article).
I was also very interested to see a note included below the video:

Important message to youtube and people who flag this video: If it gets flagged or removed , it will be uploaded 10 more times.

I found this somewhat threatening tone unique in the context of YouTube. The video intends to be taken seriously and capitalizes on the right of expression. The video contains powerful imagery, which is bolstered by the incorporation of sound. While the content is heavy, it is relatively easy to follow. It is laden with symbolism and the accessibility through YouTube helps reveal the way in which such a video is seen as a success. In order to draw a contrast across cultural contexts, I thought it would be interesting to look at the use of YouTube in our own county.

Internet campaigns are changing the face of politics.  According to Claire Caine Miller’s work. How Obama’s Internet Campaign Changed Politics, Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign utilized YouTube for free advertising. Videos were seen as more effective than TV ads because viewers had chosen to watch them or had received them from a friend (via email) instead of having a TV show interrupted. As we have all seen in the recent campaign ICTs have played an increasingly more important role.

Social media platforms we have explored in class such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are growing rapidly as a source of political news. According to Journalism.org, the number of Americans who say they regularly go to these destinations to learn about the campaign has doubled since January of this year. Even with that increase, however, these leading social media platforms are still turned to by a relatively limited number of Americans, about 17% in all, when those who mentioned at least one of those platforms are combined.

The link between politics, governance, and YouTube is reshaping our world and the power of tools such as YouTube cannot be underestimated in the context of the developing world.

Exiled Syrians provide online protection for revolutionaries

Nowhere can the potential applications and uses of social media be seen more clearly than in the Syrian revolution. As we discussed in class, the Syrian government has heavily restricted the international press’s access to the conflict. This has led to the rise of citizen journalists who rely on social media to inform the world about events in the country. Dishad Othman is a Syrian IT engineer and activist who has been forced into exile. From his home in Ireland, he provides secure connections for revolutionaries in Syria so that the government cannot see what they are doing. In this video, he talks about the importance of the Internet to the revolutionary cause. He says, “Free and open Internet is the most powerful tool in combating human rights abuses.” He also mentions the thousands of activists that have had to become educated in digital security as a safety precaution, since their lives depend on their ability to hide their activities from the government.

Status Updates in Morocco: Arab Spring

As we discussed in class this week, social media played an integral role in the Arab Spring, specifically as a means to publicize injustices and elicit response across borders and cultures. Because I am doing my country project on Morocco, I thought it would be interesting to see how social media influenced Arab spring participation throughout the country. I know that the movement significantly impacted Morocco as the country credits its first budget deficit in years to increased spending by the government to ward off any social unrest from regional turmoil. This article in Morocco World News, written by a native Moroccan, documents the role played by social media in the movement and the reaction of the Moroccan people.

Mohamed Kharbach, a native Moroccan, credits the real start of the Arab Spring with the Wiki Leaks reports that exposed corruption, torture, and other heinous government acts  which began a “growing curiosity and Mounting thirst for information” among the Arab world. Kharbach says Arabs, specifically Moroccans, turned to the internet mostly through social media. He says that youth in the area began sharing information instead of mindless rambling. Ghaddafi called the facebookers in Libya “just kids gibber” but I, personally, was in Morocco when Ghadaffi was killed and the celebration in the streets looked to be a little more that “gibber” to me. Kharbach believes that the information sharing and event dissemination of the Arab spring would not have reached Morocco without social networking as a way to inform the people of events such as the bloodshed in Syria and danger in Libya through Facebook and Youtube.

Outside of the Arab Spring, Kharbach credits the recent democratic election for heads of state under the King to the internet as a means of raising public awareness. From this article, it seems the Moroccan people are grateful for the progress made through ICT, especially in the sense that is has allowed for peaceful collaboration in many areas as a way to make a unified stand.
Ps. In the article, Kharbach uses the term “netizen” quite frequently. This term is defined as “an entity or person actively involved in online communities and a user of the internet”.  

Is Social Media a Prerequisite for Development?

In this article from the Public Service Review, a panel of experts are asked this question: Has social media become a prerequisite for development or can it lead to negative consequences? Social media played a transformational role in the Arab Spring in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt; but it is important to ask whether or not the growing presence of social media use is necessarily a good thing.

The first expert, Dr. Hamadoun Touré, argues that, while social media has provided an avenue for the expression of dissent and popular sentiment, it has not provided practical solutions in crisis situations. He believes that, though the incidents in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt caught headlines, the true potential behind social media lies in more practical, less flashy uses: crowdsourcing, information sharing, etc. Dr. Touré wraps up his insights by stating that, for the array of uses of social media to truly reach their potential, we must work to provide high-speed broadband in many areas where a fast connection is still hard to come by.

The second expert to offer an opinion, Anna Kuznicka-Marry, describes how social media can be used to connect those in rural and isolated areas with news and knowledge that they would otherwise not have access to. She goes on to remind us, however, that access and literacy are often limited in certain regions of some countries, thus constraining the beneficial effects of social media. Social media is not, therefore, a prerequisite for development; while it can lead to progress, it can also be a force of destruction.

Next, William Echikson of Google discusses the potential uses of the Internet, but also talks about growing restrictions on freedom of Internet use, and the detrimental effects of such restrictions. He recognizes the importance of some limitations of freedom of expression on the Internet (citing, for example, child pornography) but also emphasizes that, when push comes to shove, freedom of expression is essential.

Finally, Heather Blake from Reporters without Borders describes the significance of social media in the context of the Arab Spring and for future advocacy efforts. She does, however, recognize certain limitations of social media, recognizing that it is not by any means the only prerequisite for development. Social media, like many other options, is only one of many ways to employ technology in the quest for progress.