The Arab Spring was a protest movement that swept through much of the Middle East and North Africa, this movement was largely spearheaded by the youths of these countries, who were protesting in order to overthrow the dictatorships they lived under and to find freedom, prosperity, and democracy.
Social movements have existed for a long time and people used different forms of dissent to show their disaffection with their governments and continue to be the “levers of social change” (Manuel Castells, 2015, P218).
However in the 21st century new technologies such as social media have made a huge impact in the way people communicate and organise dissent, in the context of the Arab spring these social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have made it easier for activists to communicate with each other and to share the situation on the ground with the rest of the world. “It was these platforms on which virtual groups formed prior to taking to the streets” (Dover, Goodman, Hillebrand, 2013, P300) the authorities had worked very hard to shut down protestors but the activists were able to change locations of protests quickly using social media which made it harder for the police to crackdown on their activities.
In the past, Governments had the means to quell down uprisings with ease by shutting down the opposition media and cracking down on dissent using force to stop protest movements before they spread to the rest of the country but with social media authorities grew wary as they struggled to shut it down “the months during which the Arab spring took place had the most national blackouts, network shutdowns, and tool blockages to date” (Philip N Howard, 2013, P69) these steps were not successful enough to stop the protests and activists still found ways to continually stay connected and reach the wider public which eventually led to the overthrow of many regimes.
On the other hand, many believe that social media did not have as much impact as was perceived during the Arab spring and that humans have always dissented and new technological tools did not make much difference. “People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented” (Malcolm Gladwell, 2011) The fact that social media is a new technology and many people around the world don’t have access to it shows that it may not have had as much impact as was assumed.
This argument is supported by research that was carried out by many organisations such as the Pew Research Centre which has in 2011 published a comprehensive survey on attitudes of the Egyptians after the revolution and the impact social media had on them. The research showed that 65% of Egyptians did not use the internet or email.
In conclusion, social media has revolutionised the way we consume news and communicate with one another, therefore it’s clear that it had some impact on the Arab spring and continues to do so, however, it’s premature to definitively say that it had the biggest impact on the Arab spring.
Manuel Castells (2015) Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age. Polity Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Robert Dover, Michael S. Goodman, Claudia Hillebrand (2013) Routledge Companion to Intelligence Studies. Routledge, London, United Kingdom
Philip N Howard (2013) Democracy’s Fourth Wave?: Digital Media and the Arab Spring, Oxford, Oxford University Press
Malcolm Gladwell (2011) DOES EGYPT NEED TWITTER?. The New Yorker, http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/does-egypt-need-twitter
Pew Research Center (2011) Chapter 1. Views of Political Change, http://www.pewglobal.org/2011/04/25/chapter-1-views-of-political-change/