The Arab Spring and Social Media

Freshman year I took a first-year seminar specifically on the use of social media in the Arab Spring uprisings, so I paid particular attention to Ehrlich’s mention of the use of social media in the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011. When I took the class in the Fall of 2012 the events of the Arab Spring were still fairly timely and we were looking at commentary still analyzing what had happened. The main premise of the Information and Library Science course was that in the midst of revolutions, social media (especially looking at Twitter) can be an important disseminator of information for non-state actors whose traditional communication forms are limited or not practical for the time at hand. In the United States especially we may see social media as a luxury and would never think of its power to release timely information about where and when to gather in order to protest. An important fact to note, which Ehrlich mentions, is that social media did not “cause” the Arab Spring uprisings but it was a tool of the 21st century not available to traditional revolts of the past. The infectious nature of social media allowed the dissemination of information (especially video and photos) at a rate that could not be curtailed by government administrations and so they harnessed the power of enraging many people. Atrocities committed in one city or location couldn’t be swept under the rug if someone with a cell phone captured detailed proof. These cases of Tunisia and Egypt created swift overthrows of seemingly entrenched government leaders, but as Ehrlich mentions, the case of Syria is different and I learned a lot from reading Inside Syria that didn’t fit into the cookie-cutter mold of the other Arab Spring revolutions.

Additionally, I found the story of Hassino, the gay Syrian man, to be very interesting because he highlighted the mentality of the society at large. Neither the ruling government nor the opposition are inclined to believe in gay rights, so gay Syrians will not win their own personal freedom even if they support the revolution. In fact, some remarked that they were afraid that whoever replaced the devil they knew would be even more conservative (and thus anti-gay). This seems to me a different concept than what we might be used to thinking here in the United States, where revolutions may stand for “freedom for all.” In Syria, the LGBTQ community has to make decisions about who they support on other factors other than their sexual orientation, and know that neither side widely supports the rights they might feel entitled to.

Below are two (old) articles for more information on social media and the Arab Spring if anyone wants to read more. There are other similar articles, but the first one is just a short explanation of what social media meant for the Arab Spring and the second one is an article our class looked at in Fall 2012 about actually mapping the information flows of Tunisia and Egypt.


 

O’Donnell “New Study Quantifies Use of Social Media in Arab Spring” <http://www.washington.edu/news/2011/09/12/new-study-quantifies-use-of-social-media-in-arab-spring/>

Lotan et al “The Revolutions were Tweeted: Information Flows During the 2011 Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions” <http://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/1246/643>

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