In 2010 there began a series of uprisings across the Arab World over political and economic suppression by the regimes that sought to rule over their states for as long as possible. With many citizens of these states being young and modern, they took to the only place that they still felt powerful. Social media i.e. Facebook and Twitter became the bastion for open discussion and a place away from the iron grip of the regimes. Tunisia and Egypt were the first to successfully remove their long-term oppressors with the use of social media and fierce determination. The modern age of protest began in Tunisia with the rule of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Under his control Tunisia’s internet was monitored quite closely and every social media site was blocked as to avoid the inevitable uprisings against him. Facebook was the one place where Ben Ali did not press his control. The same story exists in Egypt where the digital protests sent shockwaves thought Hosni Mubarak’s government. Once again Facebook became the center of organization and, in Egypt, Twitter became the peripheral site for outreach and quick expression of anger and dissent towards Mubarak. The picture above is only one man who believes that change is inevitable and reachable.
Before any organized protests began, Tunisia had an estimated 30,000 people signed up to Facebook. But by the time word spread of small incidents of rebellion, those numbers rose to 800,000. With this many people now connected with the same goal of removing Ben Ali, the wheels were now turning and revolution was in the making. With the rapid spread of Facebook Ben Ali decided the best course of action would be to try and arrest and attack anyone planning protests but news spread of these arrests only became catalysts for hope. The crackdown on organizers only meant that Ben Ali was panicking and could not control his people any longer. The nail in the coffin was the street cart vender, Mohamad Bouazizi who set himself on fire after his cart was taken away from him. Everyone online saw the tragedy of Bouazizi and less than a month later Ben Ali stepped down. Egypt sang a similar song with its uprising where the prolonged abuse of its people by Hosni Mubarak and the murder of a man by the police led to outcries of change. Khaled Said was a man brutalized by the police whose picture became the guiding light of the revolution in Egypt. Facebook became the center for organization and Twitter became a display of emotion. The “We are All Khaled Said” Facebook page was at the center of this revolt where hundreds of thousands of people voiced their outrage and organized protest after protest until Mubarak stepped down. On February 11th 2011, Hosni Mubarak became the second all powerful leader, to be crushed by the people. What made the use of social media so successful during the Arab Spring was the way each person utilized their digital tools. Facebook and Twitter were used almost primarily as political tools, estimated that 6 out of 10 people used them to speak politically against their abuser. Social media became the anchor for these people that changed their lives.
Much has been written about the role that social media played in the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. One notable example is the book written by Wael Ghonim, a google executive who also is the admin of the “We are All Khaled Said” page. In his book Ghonim speaks about the spread of the page and what he did personally to help guide the hands of the members and organize against Mubarak. A second example is a study conducted by Catherine O’Donnell of the University of Washington who compiled thousands of tweets, videos, and posts all about the Arab Spring and saw the rise in popularity amongst those taking part in the Arab Spring. O’Donnell estimates that the number of tweets about Mubarak in Egypt rose from 2,300 to 230,000 tweets per day one week before Mubarak’s resignation. Twitter became a source of freedom for these people. A final example of the usefulness of social media comes from an article published by Rebecca J. Rosen of The Atlantic which continues to bolster the evidence that in Tunisia, social media exploded with activism during the late 2000’s into the 2010’s and the resignation of Ben Ali, this source quotes the statistic that Facebook grew from 30,000 to 800,000 in less than a year. What this all means is that the new digital age outpaced the oppressive regimes in Tunisia and Egypt to the point where Facebook and Twitter became the hub for change and hope.
Beaumont, Peter. “The Truth about Twitter, Facebook and the Uprisings in the Arab World.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 25 Feb. 2011. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.
Ghonim, Wael. Revolution 2.0: The Power of the People Is Greater than the People in Power: A Memoir. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. Print.
Journalist’s Resource. “Global Social Networking: Arab Publics Most Likely to Express Political Views Online – Journalist’s Resource.” Journalists Resource. Harvard Kennedy School, 10 July 2015. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.
O’Donnell, Catherine. “New Study Quantifies Use of Social Media in Arab Spring.” UW Today. University of Washington, 12 Sept. 2011. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.
Rosen, Rebecca J. “So, Was Facebook Responsible for the Arab Spring After All?” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 3 Sept. 2011. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.
Wolman, David. “Facebook, Twitter Help the Arab Spring Blossom.” Wired.com. Conde Nast Digital, 16 Apr. 13. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.
Student Author: Matthew Bronheim, A 4th year psychology & data analytics student at Champlain College
Faculty Advisor: Rob Williams, Ph.D., Champlain College