With reference to previous posts in this blog, we can observe that social networking websites are of great importance to our modern daily lives, bringing competition to industries, giving us convenience and the freedom that we might not have elsewhere. Here I will talk about the power social networking might contain in contributing to the recent success of social activism. Are these really social network revolutions which rely on social networking websites to be successful? Or is social networking is merely a tool in the revolutions that will soon evolve to some other tool? Scholars seem to be taking sides on this, each with their own justifications why.
Morozov (2011) carries the opinion that “these digital tools are simply, well, tools, and social change continues to involve many painstaking, longer-term efforts to engage with political institutions and reform movements.” On the other hand, Gladwell (2010) states “social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires.” Popova (2010) on the other hand, rationalizes that “while awareness is certainly not a sufficient condition for activism, it is a necessary one.” As we can see, some scholars feel that social networks are not necessary in activism because it does not help increase participation, however others feel that though social networking alone may not be enough, it is definitely necessary for activism to take place.
This brings me to the Arab spring, which refers to the revolutions motivated by social networks which started in Arab. It sparked in the small country of Tunisia, when Wikileaks revealed corruption of the Tunisian government and the lavish lifestyle of the dictator’s son. A month later, street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi was harassed by officials who confiscated his merchandise, leading him to set himself on fire on December 17th 2010, dying in the process. This led to news of planning travelling like water through social networking websites and mass demonstrations on the 19th of December 2010 in protest of how the officials had acted. News of the demonstrations spread like wildfire through social networking informing the whole world about what was going on in Tunisia. The government reacts by taking control over the Internet flow, however power of the people leads to President Ben Ali’s stepping down after less than a month of protests.
In Egypt, Khaled Mohamed Saeed gets beaten to death on June 6th 2010 and the government claims he ‘choked’ to death. This provoked Google Marketing Manager for MENA, Wael Ghonim created a Facebook group titled “We are all Khaled Said”. News travels and soon a 26 year old Egyptian vlogger Asmaa Mahfouz puts a video up on YouTube calling for mass demonstrations on January 25th 2011. The video goes viral and hundred of thousands of people appear in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt on the day of the demonstrations. Again, government reacts but after weeks of protests President Hosni Mubarak also steps down. Syria’s citizens organize protests through social networking and start protests on January 26th 2011. Yemeni Tawakkol Karman organizes protests for press freedom in January of 2011 and her arrest soon unleashes mass protests in Yemen to free her. She later wins the 2011 Nobel peace prize.
In the case of the Yemeni woman who won a Nobel peace prize, people would not have come to know of what she caused in Yemen if not for social networking because it would be physically impossible to bring that huge number of people together in such a short period of time. This is my take on the matter, but it is a very subjective matter which shows people having different perspectives when it comes to social network revolutions. Nevertheless, one thing we cannot deny is the fact that social networking has definitely affected activism and revolutions in some way or another.
Gladwell, M 2010, ‘Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted.’, The New Yorker, accessed 28/10/2012, http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/10/04/101004fa_fact_gladwell?currentPage=all
Mitew, T 2012, DIGC202 #mena#arabspring: the social network revolution, lecture notes, accessed 28/10/2012, http://prezi.com/ikufthacaunr/mena-arabspring/
Morozov, E 2011, ‘ Facebook and Twitter are just places revolutionaries go’, The Guardian, accessed 28/10/2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/07/facebook-twitter-revolutionaries-cyber-utopians
Popova, M 2010, ‘Malcolm Gladwell Is #Wrong’, Change Observer, accessed 28/10/2012, http://changeobserver.designobserver.com/feature/malcolm-gladwell-is-wrong/19008/