The Latymer School History Magazine - page 18

Protestors in Tahrir Square,
Cairo, Egypt
meritocracy and offer more
benefits to their people.
Facebook usage swelled
dramatically in the Arab
world between January and
April 2011, and sometimes
more than doubled, a report
instigated by the World Bank
found. Overall, the number
of users jumped by 30% to
27.7m, compared with a
mere 18% growth during the
same period in 2010. In the
past four years, the number
of users has nearly tripled
from 14.8m. Over three
weeks of the March protests
in Egypt and Tunisia, the
majority of the 75,000
protesters surveyed said that
they obtained their
information from social
media sites (88% in Egypt
and 94% in Tunisia). This
outnumbered those who had
turned to non-government
local media (63% in Egypt
and 86% in Tunisia) and to
foreign media (57% in Egypt
and 48% in Tunisia).
Moreover, on Twitter, the
hashtag ‘Egypt’ had 1.4
million mentions in the three
months of the year. ‘#Jan25’
had 1.2m mentions; ‘#Libya’
had 990,000; ‘#Bahrain’ had
640,000; and ‘#ArabSpring’
had 620,000, with the
number of tweets peaking
during the turning points of
the uprisings. This goes to
show how popular these
social networking sites were
during the revolutions and
how much influence they
exerted on peoples’ day-to-
day lives. It was not only
used to organise events and
protests but to also give
people the opportunity to
freely express their views
without fearing persecution,
instilling the concepts of
freedom and self-
determination within the
majority who had had their
voices muted by dictators for
decades.
The use of social media did
not flow without government
opposition – it was a ‘bumpy
road towards liberty’.
Nevertheless, attempts to
ban networking sites ended
up backfiring, as the IMF’s
‘Survey of Egyptians and
Tunisians’ found. Whilst just
over a quarter of those
polled (28% in Egypt and
29% in Tunisia) said the
blocking of Facebook
disrupted their efforts to
organise and communicate,
more than half (56% in Egypt
and 59% in Tunisia) stated
that it had a positive effect,
motivating them to press on
and mobilise newcomers.
The authorities’ efforts to
block out information, the
report said, ended up
'spurring people to be more
active, decisive and to find
ways to be more creative
about communicating and
organising'.
Amidst fierce debate in
academic circles, an
upcoming book argues that
social media and new
technology were crucial to
successful uprisings in
Tunisia and Egypt and
helped foster grassroots
movements in other Arab
nations. ‘Democracy’s Fourth
Wave? Digital Media and the
Arab Spring’ concludes that
digital media was
‘consistently one of the most
important sufficient and
necessary conditions’ as
‘there was a longstanding
democracy movement in
these countries that for many
years tried many tactics but
none of them worked’.
Written by Philip Howard, a
communications professor at
the University of Washington,
the book claims that
authoritarian regimes had
been accustomed to controls
on traditional media but
were unable to keep up with
the rapid spread of Twitter
and Facebook. He maintains
that ‘new media’ made a
difference because it ‘has so
fundamentally changed the
way people think about their
options.’ The Arab Spring
movements ‘involved a
networked public of
generally younger folks,’
which was ‘structurally
different’ from prior
movements headed by
charismatic leaders, Howard
argues. ‘Democracy’s Fourth
Wave?’, written with the help
of Muzammil Hussain,
counters the academics who
had concluded that the
impact of social media was
exaggerated in the West. The
2013 book creates a direct
link between the power of
social media and the ‘World
Community’ tightening the
ratchet on Arab dictators.
Both Howard and Hussain
agree that the tweets and
Facebook posts were
successful in spreading
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