Before the 2011 spring Arab uprisings, it was unimaginable that young men, holding smartphones on their hands, would force regimes that have existed for decades out of power. But it happened. Immediately after the successful ouster of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the imminent overthrow of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak, there was a widespread secession on the role social media had played in the revolutions. That is the precise focus in Soengas (2013) research study. He joined other scholars and commentators to look at the role social media played, and varying differences with traditional media that made it more favorable to drive such a massive political revolutions. The article goes more in-depth to label the internet and social media as alternatives to official press, which had been substantially censored across Arab countries, used purposely to spread government friendly communications.
Social media was an interruption to the censorship error, and the government were either caught off-guard or simply underrated the impact it would have on governance and politics of the day. Internet and social media opened space for the Arab people to express themselves, and open to the world. This newly found channels of expression, which had limited government control gave them the urge to interrogate the deeply rooted social injustices in their countries. Sharing their experiences with the outside world worsened the urge to drive political change back home. However, one thing the article completely disregards is the role played by those who were based in the country, those who opened up the situation in the country, showered up in the streets, armed or otherwise to drive what they considered as despotic regimes out of powers. The article overly focuses on youths based in Madrid, Barcelona and other cities in Europe. Their contribution was outstanding, but probably not as much as those who experienced the revolution firsts hand.
Even though the article gives the accurate impression of the impact the internet and social media played in the Arab revolutions, there are generalizations in the methodology, and failure to credit organized groups which might have played a critical role. It interviews a clique of youths in Europe, about a situation that they probably experienced virtually. It also doesnt specify the specific roles played by these youths. It would be important to research about other strategic contributions other than agitation through social media that might have added fuel to the rebels. In many of these countries, for instance, Tunisia where the detonation happened, everything was started from inside the country, only to be supported from outside the country, something which kept the rebels moving. It is therefore essential to give the picture of these people who started it, who showered up in the streets, sharing the happenings in real time with the world.
The methodology was also limited in the number of people it engaged in the study. Offering to study 30 people in revolutions that affected millions of people, which had millions of people driving it through social media may have an impact of giving a limited view. These people are too few to provide a complete picture of what happened. It should be appreciated that such some people will defiantly lack diversity, another critical factor that was observed in the revolution. It is a subjective matter to credit youths for driving the revolution, when we watched people across ages groups, young and old, show up armed in the streets protesting. Other organized groups offered strategic advisory to both online campaigners and those within the organization to ensure the success of the protests.
However, despite the limitation in the methodology, the research is well organized, and the results are impressive in a way. One of the most critical findings were that majority of those interviewed, and as anyone who watched the revolution would agree is that the internet and social media made the protests more visible on the international stage. That is quite logical given all the subjects of the study watch this revolution away from home. However, it is those on the ground which led the visibility. They uploaded pictures on social media, wrote posts and tweeted, all in support or to show the world what was going on. These were happening against the regime that at the crisis, just like before, had continued to censor official press particularly in portraying the rebel progress to the world. It was keen to hide its weakness as well as the strengths of the protesters, but this plan was countered by the freedom on social media. The author gives the roles played by the internet and social media almost exhaustively, in a writing version convincing enough that even if the limitations in the methodology are addressed, the results and findings won't change significantly.
The author, however, regrets the genuine concerns about what he calls unfiltered journalism, as well as the government also turning up to use the internet and social media as a channel for propaganda. It was not, as it is now, to differentiate credible news from propaganda. The internet and social media came with its advantages, but apparently, a stream of disadvantages are coming up which are hard to tackle. For instance, at some point, no one would tell if the videos, images, and posts shared, showing extreme brutality to civilians by state forces was real or just makeup. It should not escape that the reason the protests received widespread visibility globally was due to the governments actions to protestors. In Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt, protests were met with brute force in a bid to quell them. But that only energized everyone who was involved.
It is irrefutable, as the article claims that the internet and social media played an essential role in the Arab uprisings. It must also be appreciated that there was some form of coincidence, where the internet and social media came when individuals had just been fed up with their regimes, they were spread strong undertones of dissatisfaction and many other political issues. Therefore, the internet and social media, opening them to the outside world made them see what they were missing. The political freedoms, the essential economic progress, and the need to change them. Remember that the first person who brews himself in Tunisia did so due to social, economic hardships, and probably had no connection with social media. It, however, acted as a wakeup call to everyone. They had been provoked to react to situations they had swept under the carpet for considerably a long time. Supported by natives in foreign countries, they managed to drive online campaigns that saw those back at home pour into the streets, forcing change that was unimaginable few months earlier.
Soengas, X. (2013). The Role of the Internet and Social Networks in the Arab Uprisings - An Alternative to Official Press Censorship
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