I’m of the opinion that social media is a wonderful and often underrated tool, capable of maintaining the stability and organisation of various groups. This can be seen particularly in the case of the Arab Spring, with revolutionaries numbering the hundreds of thousands, seen specifically in the mass protesters that assembled at Tahrir Square in Egypt, 2011.
It is here that the conflicting opinions lie – was social media the cause of the Arab Spring or was it merely a catalyst in assisting the already surging revolution?
Often referred to by scholars and journalists as the ‘Twitter Revolution’, the Arab Spring is unique due to its strong dependence on social media to facilitate meetings and assemble the revolutionaries involved in the uprising. A report composed by scholars from Harvard University and George Washington University “analyses… the impact of new media on political movements”. It concludes, “Where Twitter and other new media clearly did matter is how they conveyed information about the protests to the outside world. Traditional media were at a disadvantage in covering events inside Iran because of restrictions placed on journalists, and thus ended up relying on new media for content.” (Aday, S et. al, 2010). This clearly establishes the roles of the citizens directly involved in the revolution and those on the outside world, revealing the importance of social media for both citizens and reporters alike. This example sees social media depicted as an infrastructure for citizens to communicate their revolutionary work, rather than a place to start the revolution itself.
Saleem Kasim, in his article “Twitter revolution: How the Arab Spring was Helped by Social Media”, outlines the usefulness of social media and how its presence during the revolution helped many people to cope and find support, “Through social networking sites, Arab Spring activists have not only gained the power to overthrow powerful dictatorship, but also helped Arab civilians become aware of the underground communities that exist and are made up of their brothers, and others willing to listen to their stories” (Kasim, S 2012).
Kalim also adds that during the revolution, users were able to share “an immense amount of uncensored and accurate information throughout social networking sites”. This is perhaps one of the most important points to make about the role of social media: It’s easy, quick and free! An activist in Cairo during the rebellion tweeted, “We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world”.
A Tweet takes mere seconds to write and upload and is done so on a very public platform, providing outsiders with a candid view of the situation from people who are actually there in real time. Social media offered citizens the opportunity to get their thoughts and stories into the public sphere freely via social media, effectively bypassing government censorship. I am of the firm belief that without social media, the uprisings in Egypt etc. would have still gone ahead, however it is clear that platforms such as twitter, YouTube and Facebook played numerous roles in assisting citizens and journalists alike at the time.