Social Media and the Arab Spring
On August 15, 1945, the crackling announcement of the end of World War II over the airwaves marked the end of a war that had claimed over sixty million lives.
On November 9, 1989, a bespectacled reporter broadcasted, on the BBC Nine O'Clock News on TV, the breach of the Berlin wall that had kept East and West Berliners apart for decades. On February 11, 2011, the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, the dictator who ruled Egypt, was tweeted and retweeted countless times.
The passage of time has given rise to newer and more efficient tools of communication. Gone are the days when families sat around a transistor radio or a television set waiting for the newsperson to relay the news from half way across the globe. News from the few to the many is indeed a thing of the past.
The "Youth Bulge" in the Middle East, with nearly 50-70 percent of the population below the age of thirty, has made conventional sources of news outdated. A growing distrust of the authorities forced them to search for news and express themselves on the Internet. Traditional public squares of yesteryears have made way for Facebook, Twitter, Blogspot, and YouTube--the public square of our times. Information is freely transmitted and everyone's voice is heard, undiluted by the opinions of political pundits and commentators.
The potent presence of social media was never felt more powerfully than it was in what has come to be known as the Arab Spring--the revolution that swept across North Africa and the Middle East in 2011. Three million tweets, a huge number of gigabytes of YouTube videos, numerous blog posts, and thousands of facebook updates later, the Arab Spring led to the removal of dictators and despots who ruled the region.
Even though the concept of using social media for political reasons appears to be a fresh idea, the seed of political activism on the Internet is not a new idea. Activists and students alike turned to the Internet and social media to express their frustrations and their aspirations. A young university student, Kamal, is seen as one of the catalysts to the protests that led to the downfall of Hosni Mubarak. He started writing in a blog after an incident at the railway station. He fell off the train onto the platform, but instead of helping him the policemen beat him. People began to chronicle similar experiences of humiliation and degradation at the hands of representatives of their government. This community on the Internet was formed on the basis of shared experiences and aspirations. They communicated with each other in blogs, Facebook updates, and tweets.
On the week prior to the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, the shamed president of Egypt, the total rate of tweets about the political climate in the country increased from 2,300 a day to 230,000 a day. YouTube videos about the protests went viral with viewership of these amateur videos in the millions. Political activists who long demanded a free and fair country churned out blog after blog demanding a better government.
Social media opened a window of opportunity to a world of political dialogue and cultural discourse that would change life as they had known and endured. These discussions crossed borders and enthused people even in surrounding nations to join the conversation. These digital conversations aboutliberty and democracy encouraged those sitting behind their laptops and smart phones to emerge in the open to protest their suppression. Once they decided to take the peaceful protests to the streets, social media again lent itself. It no longer was just a platform for communication, but it evolved into a tool for organization of these mass demonstrations. Nearly nine out of ten Egyptians and Tunisians surveyed responded that they had used Facebook to organize. Almost every protest organized on Facebook was realized on the streets of Cairo and Tunis.
The frenzied reaction of authorities to douse the fire of rebellion was to blackout the Internet, to starve the people of information, and to stifle their dreams of freedom. This ploy by the government backfired. Unable to get information on the Internet, more and more people began to take to the streets. This mass exodus of people from their homes to the streets further strengthened the determination of the demonstrators.
Since the start of the Arab Spring in January 2011, Facebook usage has increased markedly. Just in the first few months of the revolution facebook users doubled. A vast majority of people surveyed in the immediate months following the resignation of dictators in Tunisia and Egypt said they got their information from social media and not from the non-governmental local media.
Social media is a force to be reckoned with. It enabled the world to see in real time the horrors that people endured under cruel dictatorships. It enabled the world to catch a glimpse of the hopes and dreams of people. It played a more than vital role in heralding the dawn of a new day in Egypt and Tunisia.
Praise God for technology and tools of communication that have broken barriers that otherwise would have been difficult to cross (The Bible, Ephesians 2:14).
Pray for the right and proper use of social media. Pray that it would further the cause of the Gospel, peace, and progress (The Bible, Psalm 29:11).
Pray for the Peace of God to reign in the "new day" that was brokered in part through social media (The Bible, Isaiah 9:6).
Sources: New Study Quantifies Use of Social Media in Arab Spring, Facebook and Twitter Key to Arab Spring Uprisings: Report, About Origins of Revolution Through Social Media in Egypt and Tunisia
This article originally appeared in the January 2013 Edition of the Win 10/40 Reporter.
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