The year 2010 and 2011 has proven to be historic for the Arab world. It was the period when a string of demonstrations spread like wildfire to the other nations. It was dubbed as the Arab Spring, a term coined by western journalists in reference to a similar uprising in the West. Accordingly, it began in Tunisia when a vendor burned himself alive to protest police brutality. The demonstrations ranged from peaceful to violent. However their relative successes were varied.
According to reports, social media like Facebook, Twitter and other platforms played an essential role in the fruition of the uprising. But their actual roles and effects differed from one country to another especially in those areas with lesser internet accessibility. While there are those who swore by how big the role of social media in the uprising was, there were also other sectors which argue otherwise.
Arab Spring Goals
The uprising was mistakenly compared to pro-democracy cataclysms that happened in other parts of the world. Apparently it was just somewhat close to that. What the demonstrators were actually after was leadership change in regimes which have histories of abuse and strict age-old sectarian views.
Role of Social Media
Despite heated arguments on the real role of social media in the Arab Spring, it’s undeniable that it had somewhat exerted influence which contributed to its fruition. However, due to varying internet levels of accessibility, the inconsistency of its influence differs among the participating countries. To add, there were regimes which actually censored social media and arrested personalities known to have posted comments or items considered critical to them. There were also those which totally blocks social media access up to this day.
Did Social Media Influenced the Arab Spring?
People were divided in this issue as others claimed that it actually did not. They argued that the facts leading to the event were already present prior to the uprising itself. They contended further that the most that social media did was to be a tool that was used by the players in the revolution.
On the other hand, others countered that social media actually influenced individuals to participate in the demonstrations. The flooding of information and images through platforms afforded individuals with a clear cut story of the real situation on the ground. There are even some back then who relied heavily on social media instead of new outlet which could have been under government control.
Types of Social Media used
Facebook. A social networking site which is active in most countries. This is the widely used platform by activists and dissidents. In spite of the possibility of being tracked down by government censors, users still prefer this due to its ability to reach wider audience. It afforded an avenue for individuals to exchange relevant information as well as posts images and videos relative to the uprising. This was said to be used to schedule the protests.
Twitter. A popular microblogging site which also was utilized during the Arab Spring. According to one protester, they used it to coordinate with the other activists. Moreover, developments of the uprising were posted in the site where followers are updated. However, in areas where internet access is limited or where social media is banned, its effect was not that significant.
YouTube. A popular video sharing site which allows users to upload videos in accordance with its Terms of Services. In the advent of Arab Spring, videos of the demonstrations as well as the violent responses of the government forces were uploaded and were seen by thousands who were able to access them. These were also shared across other platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
The Arab Spring, which was heavily publicized as an uprising made possible in part by social media, had some relative success in the countries where it actually happened. However, this did not translate to what the proponents had hoped for. Though some of them were able to overthrow the leaders they despised, the needed reforms were not met by the succeeding leadership. Worst, it had even left the country in turmoil.
Social media as it is, is a veritable tool, when spreading information. This is most helpful when mass media is prevented by the state from performing its real mandate which is to inform the masses. This is especially true in instances like the Arab Spring wherein most of the information were uploaded through social media. It enabled the widespread access to information for most people that state-controlled media could have denied.
Notwithstanding the arguments to its influence in the demonstrations, it can’t be denied that social media was a key player in the activities leading to the Arab Springs. It had not only empowered their people but also allowed others from the global community a glimpse of what is happening in the ground. In those things that traditional media had failed to capture, social media was able to provide.