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The society which was once massified by media is being de-massified by the new trend in InfoTech. De-massification , according to Fairweather (2005), is a process which allows communicators to interact directly with selected publics without having bureaucratic communication process. In this respect, the new media have caused a revolutionary shift in the balance of power between the news producer and the news consumer (Lasica, 2002; Shirky, 2009; Jenkins, 2006).
The question of de-massification of the media and its political and social consequences may vary according to the uses of social networking media (Fairweather, 2005). Communication through social networking (mainly Facebook and Twitter) has been playing major role in the uprisings of some Arab countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and several countries in the world recently.
It is in this context that this dissertation will answer the major research question:
Can Twitter be described as a "revolutionary tool" in the Arab Spring?
The hypothesis adopted stresses that Twitter is indeed a revolutionary tool, but as far as the role of Twitter in the Egyptian uprising is concerned, it was just a means of communication, a means to disseminate the information and spread the word. The tools of revolutions were the people who created the events not the social networks.
The dissertation will examine the Twitter "tweets" or messages, and the way in which they mediate communication between the Twitter-users (Tweeters) and their followers during the Egyptian revolution over a period of 22 days (from January 22, 2011 through February 12, 2011) .
To answer the research question, we will first provide a review of the literature , definitions concerning the key concepts of this research, and define selected approaches which will be used for the analysis of data.
Structure of the thesis
This paper consists of a general introduction and three chapters . In the opening chapter, I will establish the concepts and approaches which represent the core of this study : Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) and Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). Chapter two contains the research design and analysis of the data through the use of SFL and CDA as well as a discussion of the results. As a conclusion, chapter three provides a brief summary of the major findings, presents some limitations and makes some suggestions for further research, and discusses some pedagogical implications. This chapter ends with a general conclusion.
Before dealing with the theoretical framework, I will start with a brief timeline of major events in 2011 Egyptian Revolution that started on January 25, 2011.
Timeline: Egyptian Revolution
A chronicle of the revolution that ended the three-decade-long presidency of Hosni Mubarak.
January 2011: Activists in Egypt call for an uprising in their own country, to protest against poverty, unemployment, government corruption and the rule of president Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power for three decades.
January 25:Â On a national holiday to commemorate the police forces, Egyptians take to the streets in large numbers, calling it a "day of rage".
January 26:Â Police use tear gas, water cannons and batons to disperse protesters in Cairo. Witnesses say that live ammunition is also fired into the air.
January 27: Protests continue across several cities. Hundreds have been arrested, but the protesters say they will not give up until their demand is met.
JanuaryÂ 28:Â Internet and mobile phone text message users in Egypt report major disruption to services as the country prepares for a new wave of protests after Friday prayers.
January 29:Â In a speech delivered shortly after midnight, Mubarak announces that he has sacked the cabinet, but he himself refuses to step down. His whereabouts are unknown.
January 30:Â Thousands of protesters remain in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
JanuaryÂ 31:Â Mubarak still refuses to step down, amid growing calls for his resignation. Protesters continue to defy the military-imposed curfew. About 250,000 peopleÂ gather in Cairo's Tahrir Square and hundreds march through Alexandria. Internet access across Egypt is still shoddy according to most reports.
February 1:Â Hosni Mubarak announces in a televised address that he will not run for re-election but refuses to step down from office - the central demand of the protesters.
February 2: Preparations begin for another day of demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak's regime. The army is still deployed with tanks throughout different positions in and around Tahrir Square.
February 3: Bursts of heavy gunfire early aimed at anti-government demonstrators in Tahrir [Liberation] Square, leave at least five people dead and several more wounded, according to reports from Cairo.
February 4: Hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters gather in Cairo's Tahrir Square for what they have termedÂ theÂ "Day of Departure".
February 5:Â Thousands who remainÂ inside Tahrir Square fear an approaching attempt by the military to evacuate the square.
February 6: Protests continue in Tahrir Square; there are reports of gunshots fired by the army into the air near the cordon set up inside the barricades, near the Egyptian museum.
February 7: Thousands are camping out in Tahrir Square, refusing to budge. While banks have reopened, schools and the stock exchange remain closed.
Wael Ghonim, a Google executive and political activist arrested by state authorities, is released; some see him as a potential figurehead for the pro-democracy camp.
February 8: Protesters continue to gather at Tahrir Square, whichÂ now resembles a tented camp. Protesters in the capital also gather to protest outside parliament.
February 9: Labor unions join protesters in the street, with some of them calling for Mubarak to step down while others simply call for better pay. Massive strikes start rolling throughout the country.
February 10: Protesters inÂ Tahrir Square react with fury when MubarakÂ says he's remainingÂ in power until September. Protesters wave their shoes in the air, and demand the army join them in revolt.
February 11:Â After tens of thousands people take to the streets across Egypt in angryÂ protests, Hosni Mubarak resigns as president and hands over power to the army.
February 12: People celebrate in Tahrir Square until early morning. Pro-democracy protesters start to clean the square.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies
In this opening chapter, I will provide a review of the relevant literature and define basic concepts such as communication revolution, power, social change and revolution, social networks (Twitter), and describe the two analytical approaches to be used in this research (Critical) Discourse Analysis and Systemic Functional Linguistics .
1.2. Communication revolution
Revolutions have always been social and involved media. In the American Revolution, Thomas Paine's pamphlet "Common Sense," published in 1776, stimulated the colonists and became the most-read publication . It was also social, with readings in taverns and coffee shops. John Adams, the American president, later said: "Without the pen of the author of 'Common Sense,' the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain." (Cited in Harmer,2006. p.34).
The usage of mobile phones, social networking websites in protests in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region was not entirely unprecedented. Twitter, the newest social-networking tool, has been identified with two mass protests - in Moldova in April 2009 and in Iran in June 2009, when thousands of people took to the streets to oppose the official results of the presidential election. After the elections, some commentators went so far as to assert that these protests merited the label "Twitter Revolution" due to the integral role played by the micro-blogging site. ( Solow-Niederman , 2010). Back to 2001, the popular ousting of President Joseph Estrada in the Philippines has been referred to as an " SMS Revolution" due to the widespread use of text messages which mobilized protesters to demand the removal of Estrada. These events were described at the time by a program officer at the United Nations University as "the world's first e-revolution"- a change of government brought about by new forms of ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies)" (Comninos , 2011).
Thus the world stands at the threshold of a new age, an age pregnant with great promise as well as new conflicts. A revolution is sweeping over the world that is as significant as any that has gone before in human history. A revolution in technology that manipulates and communicates information is driving fundamental change upon the world - an information revolution. But just what is an information revolution?
The heart of the revolution is the ability to communicate and receive information in ways never before possible. It is the rapid, widespread access to information brought on by the power of information technology that is causing the fundamental changes in human society.
Time's Steve Johnson (2009) calls the ability to share information on Twitter revolutionary- it's easy and accessible to the masses and opens the conversation to populations that might otherwise be left out of political decision-making. The New Media is wrestling power and control of information from the elites who used to control mass media. The control and dissemination of information is now in the hands of bloggers, podcasters, and Tweeters.
The word power is derived from the Latin word potere, which means "to be able." This root meaning focuses on power as a general capacity-we all have the potential to shape our lives and the world around us. However, based on most peoples' experiences with economic and political institutions, power has more to do with "control, influence or authority over others."
According to Castells (2009, p.10) ,
Power is the relational capacity that enables a social actor to influence asymmetrically the decisions of other social actor(s) in ways that favor the empowered actor's will, interests, and values. Power is exercised by means of coercion (or the possibility of it) and/or by the construction of meaning on the basis of the discourses through which social actors guide their action.
Castells ( 2007) introduced the concept of counter-power "By counter-power I understand the capacity by social actors to challenge and eventually change the power relations institutionalized in society". People need to challenge the dominant worldview and frame their issues to reflect their broader goals for social change.
Toffler (1990) claims that we are experiencing a global "power shift" which is a deep level change in the nature of power. In short, Toffler states that knowledge is becoming the "ultimate substitute," replacing the more traditional forms of power. Knowledge is a substitute for violence, wealth, labor, energy, space, and time. Indeed, "Knowledge is the crux of tomorrow's world-wide struggle for power." (1990, p. 20)
Other writers, such as Nye (1990), have noted that power is being transformed from the more traditional 'hard' power (i.e. military and economic) to 'softer' forms of power such as technological and communications capabilities.
1.4. Social change
For new social movements, the internet provides the essential platform for debate. To act on people's mind, the internet serves as the activists' most potent political weapon. According to Castells (2007, p.252) "actors striving for social change often use the Internet platform as a way to influence the information agenda of mainstream media."
Status quo power relations are reinforced by the fact that most of us experience powerlessness as part of everyday life. For most working people and historically oppressed groups, the experience of being shut out of decision-making processes gets internalized and understood as the 'natural state' of things. Consider the following reflections on powerlessness from Rich (1984,cited in Power and Social change. Grassroots Policy Project. p.4 ) :
When those who have the power to name and to socially construct reality choose not to see you or hear youâ€¦.when someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked in the mirror and saw nothing. It takes some strength of soul-and not just individual strength but collective understanding-to resist this void, this non-being, into which you are thrust, and to stand up, demanding to be seen and heard.
Social change groups organizing in diverse communities and workplaces can give people a place to act together, reflect on their actions, engage in collective analysis, and challenge the dominant relation powers with new ideas and experiences.
Goldstone (2001, p.121) defines revolution as :
an effort to transform the political institutions and the justifications for political authority in the society, accompanied by formal or informal mass mobilization and non-institutionalized actions that undermine authorities.
Kamrava (1990, p.12) defines revolution as:
Requir[ing] the development of a necessary set of political as well as social conditions. Politically, it is necessary that the powers and the authority of the ruling élite be significantly weakened by internal or international developments. The ensuing weaknesses and exigencies then need to be exploited by specific groups that seek to overthrow the existing élite. The society as a whole needs to embody some degree of receptivity to revolutionary change. For opposition groups to acquire popular legitimacy and to attract the support necessary to overthrow the regime, two social factors are important. First, the opposition groups themselves need to have the appropriate social means to disseminate their propaganda and to establish necessary links with the popular classesâ€¦Second, the popular classes must be dissatisfied with the existing conditions and therefore be inclined to support the opposition groups.
Following this understanding of revolution, the Arab Revolutions of 2011-2012 easily fall into these definitions. Social and political changes are the main aims of all revolutions in general and of recent revolutions in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in particular. To understand the use of social media for social and political changes I will define as well as present some characteristics and effects of social media.
1.5. Social media
Social media are platforms for interaction. Social media is the concept of having an electronic platform where people can interact and have conversations about a wide variety of common subjects using computers. The Social Media Glossary defines :
Social Media are works of user-created video, audio, text or multimedia that are published and shared in a social environment, such as a blog, podcast, forum, wiki or video hosting site. More broadly, social media refers to any online technology that lets people publish, converse and share content online.
The world is in the midst of a revolution. The new tools of social media have reinvented social activism. With Facebook and Twitter and the like, the traditional relationship between political authority and popular will have been upended, making it easier for the powerless to collaborate, coordinate, and give voice to their concerns. "Social media tools are said to give people the ability to connect and unite in a crisis, raise awareness of an issue worldwide, and to help in taking over authoritarian governments." (Sheedy, 2011, p.7).
Social media received attention because of the use of social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube by activists to communicate, plan and organize their actions. What is the role of social media in revolutions? Rising of social media as an issue in international agenda and naming of recent revolutions as Social Media Revolutions, Facebook or Twitter revolutions instead of People's revolutions have been very incentive.
Social network is an online environment to share, communicate and converse with friends. e.g. Twitter. Twitter, as it is described in its own webpage (www.twitter.com), is a real-time information network that connects you to the latest information about what you find interesting. At the heart of Twitter are small bursts of information called Tweets. Each Tweet is 140 characters in length. Users accumulate followers - those who receive your Tweets - and can choose to follow others thus receiving their Tweets. Users can reply to friends' Tweets or Retweet them; that is repost one's own or someone else's Tweet onto one's account wall , (hence the term micro-blogging).
As the site has evolved and has become increasingly popular, unique features have been developed (Ostrow, 2009). A search function has been added, as well as hashtags (tags with a hash symbol - # - in front of them added to a Tweet to mark it as related to a particular topic), which allows users at a particular event or those tweeting about a distinct issue, for example, to group their updates and follow trending topics in their area. Tweets, for example, using the #Jan25 , #egypt or #Tahrir hashtags are grouped with each other on Twitter's site. In this case, protesters from across the country can see what other protesters are saying, continue the conversation by replying to a tweet, or disseminate a particularly important tweet to others by retweeting. Early research shows that those who use Twitter have several unique characteristics that make them different from the users of other social networking sites like Facebook. They are exceptionally mobile- most of those who "tweet" or post a status update do so from a mobile device like a Blackberry or iPhone, enabling them to post updates from anywhere at any time and check up on who they follow frequently ( Solow-Niederman, 2010).
Because Twitter is a tool as well as a website, government censorship is more problematic (Cohen, 2009). A citizen need not go to Twitter.com to tweet or to read other users' posts, but rather can post and access tweets in a variety of ways that do not involve the Twitter website. Whereas a website like Facebook can be shut down, censoring Twitter would require individually locating and blocking each user , which is difficult.
1.6. (Critical) discourse analysis
Discourse is defined by Fairclough (1992, p. 63) as "a mode of action, one form in which people may act upon the world and especially upon each other, as well as a mode of representation". Fairclough's definition as given above provides two perspectives. The first views discursive acts as social action. The second views discursive acts as construing experience. To begin with the discourse-as-social-action perspective, Gee (1990: 143) defines discourse as :
... a socially accepted association among ways of using language, of thinking, feeling, believing, valuing, and of acting that can be used to identify oneself as a member of a socially meaningful group or 'social network', or to signal a socially meaningful 'role'.
Gee's definition foregrounds language, but does not limit discourse to a linguistic concept. The other focus in Gee's definition is social groups: discourse signifies group membership (cf. Swales, 1990).
The second of the two perspectives on discourse is that of representation. According to Fairclough (1995: 56) :
A discourse is the language used in representing a given social practice from a particular point of view. ... For instance, the social practice of politics is differently signified in liberal, socialist and Marxist political discourses... .
Our experience of the world is constructed differently according to the social roles we are playing at any given time: according to the social relationships we are enacting in discourse.
This essential relationship between context and discourse is one of the fundamental tenets of systemic functional (SF) theory ( Halliday 1994; Halliday and Hasan 1989; Martin 1992).
The two perspectives on discourse - discourse as social action and as representation - are inseparable. Discourses are ways of meaning by which we act socially, by which we identify ourselves as members of particular groups and as playing particular social roles, and in these roles we construct and represent our experience of the world in certain ways. In turn, by representing experience in certain ways, we identify ourselves as members of certain groups, and as playing particular social roles.
Discourses are social processes. The artefacts of these processes are texts, which embody the exchange and creation of interpersonal (social action) and experiential (representational) meanings negotiated in discourse. For Halliday & Hasan (1989: 11):
A text, then, is both an object in its own right ... and an instance - an instance of social meaning in a particular context of situation. It is a product of its environment, a product of a continuous process of choices ... .
Critical Discourse Analysis (henceforth CDA) "is the uncovering of implicit ideologies in texts. It unveils the underlying ideological prejudices and therefore the exercise of power in texts" (Widdowson, 2000). It is an attempt to critically analyze the relationship between language, ideology, and society. As Van Dijk (1993) puts it, "critical discourse analysts want to understand, expose, and resist social inequality."
Fairclough (1995: 132-3) defines CDA as follows:
By critical discourse analysis I mean discourse analysis which aims to systematically explore often opaque relationships of causality and determination between (a) discursive practices, events and texts, and (b) wider social and cultural structures, relations and processes; to investigate how such practices, events and texts arise out of and are ideologically shaped by relations of power and struggles over power; and to explore how the opacity of these relationships between discourse and society is itself a factor securing power and hegemony.
The roots of CDA are in critical theory which is tied up with Frankfurt School of Social Research. "Critical theory is defined as a research perspective, which has basically a critical attitude towards society" (Langer, 1998, p.3). More specifically, it is used to refer to "any theory concerned with critique of ideology and the effects of domination" (Fairclough, 1995, p.20). In the 1970s a group of linguists and literary theorists at the University of East Anglia developed the idea of critical linguistics. Their approach was based on M.A.K Halliday's Systemic functional linguistics .
1.7. Systemic Functional linguistics
Systemic Functional Linguistics ( henceforth SFL), also referred to as Systemic Functional Grammar, systemics or systemic linguistics (White, 2000) can be used to detail the grammar of language as used within social situations. It is grammar that explores how language and context are linked together through meaning. Eggins (2005: 21) states that:
â€¦ what is distinctive to systemic linguistics is that it seeks to develop both a theory about language as social process and an analytical methodology which permits the detailed and systematic description of language patterns.
The systematic description of language patterns describes the functions or meanings of language through the use of three meta-functions. The three meta-functions within SFL- experiential (ideational), interpersonal and textual - are utilized to explore the structures of wording within context and patterns (White, 2000: 3). These functions operate simultaneously within the language to realize meaning. The experiential meta-function uses language to denote experience, the interpersonal meta-function uses language to describe interaction and to convey attitudes and the textual meta-function uses language to organize experiential and interpersonal meanings into a linear and coherent whole (Butt et al., 2003: 6).
Figure 1.1 : Meta-functional relations between text and context in SFL
(Halliday, 2002/; Martin, 1992).
These three meta-functions map onto the three variables in the context of situation (field, tenor, mode), so that the field of discourse in the context of situation is expressed by the ideational meta-function in language; the tenor of discourse in the context of situation is expressed by the interpersonal meta-function in language; and the mode of discourse in the context of situation is expressed by the textual meta-function in language (Figure 1.1.).
Language has evolved in such a way that these three meta-functions are expressed simultaneously. That is, the different structures realizing meta-functional meaning map onto one another, both in clause structure (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2004) and discourse structure (Martin, 1992).
Ethnic minority groups along the border
malicious messages about the government
Table 1.1 : Meta-functional lexico-grammatical meaning in an English clause.
Halliday's systemic-functional model has been widely adopted by discourse analysts because his classifications of different parts of clauses say something fundamental about the function, or even the purpose behind the organizing of clauses and sentences. Halliday's systemic-functional theory is widely adopted by researchers investigating language from a critical perspective, who desire to gain insight on the choices of meaning makers and on how language functions socially.
SFL is not considered a set of rules for language, but rather a set of resources for "describing, interpreting and making meaning" (Butt et al, 2003: 3).
van Leeuwen (2005) describes how he and others who study semiotic systems other than language have built on the work of Halliday (1987: 192):
who argued that the grammar of a language is not code, not a set of rules for producing correct sentences, but 'a resource for making meanings' .
Halliday's analyses are mostly concerned with the clause level of language, which ranks above morpheme, word and phrase/group level. Halliday (2004: 10) claims that:
The clause is the central processing unit in the lexico-grammar - (â€¦) it is in the clause that meanings of different kinds are mapped into an integrated grammatical structure .
Halliday sees the clause as a composite entity consisting of three dimensions of structure, or meta-functions.
Systemic Functional Linguistics is a contextual and social theory of language. It views language from a functional perspective, and equally important is its systemic perspective. Halliday ( 2002/: 217) notes :
Systemic theory takes the system, not the structure, as the basis of the description of a language, and so is able to show how ... types of structure function as alternative modes of the realization of systemic options.
Systemic-functional linguistics (SFL), developed by Michael Halliday (1978, 1994) will be adopted in this research paper to investigate Twitter discourse from a critical perspective - Egyptian revolution as a case study.
Using a systemic approach, this paper will explore and analyze the modality system- the speaker's attitude towards the truth of a proposition expressed in a sentence- the mood system, and the person system in the Egyptian revolution tweets (#Jan25) during a period of 19 days from Jan 25, 2011 through Feb 9, 2011.
Polarity is a choice between yes and no. But these are not the only possibilities; there are intermediate degrees, such as 'sometimes' or 'maybe'. These intermediate degrees, between the positive and negative poles, are known collectively as MODALITY (Halliday, 1994).What the modality system does is to construe the region of uncertainty that lies between 'yes' and 'no'.
Modality refers broadly to a speaker's attitude towards, or opinion about, the truth of a proposition expressed by a sentence. It also extends to their attitude towards the situation or event described by a sentence. Modality is therefore a major exponent of the interpersonal function of language. (Simpson,1993).
Within the Interpersonal meta-function the social character and relationship of functional constituents within the texts can be discerned through an examination of a text's modality. Halliday (2001: 182) states that:
Modalities in language-expressions of probability, obligation and the like- are the grammar's way of expressing the speaker's or writer's judgment, without making the first person 'I' explicitâ€¦Modalities never express the judgment of some third party .
Let us examine how the notion of modality is understood within the framework of Halliday's systemic functional grammar. In this framework, language is seen as "a social process that contributes to the realization of different social contexts" through three contextual dimensions of field (what is talked about), tenor (the relationship between speaker/hearer), and mode (expectations for how particular text types should be organized) (Schleppegrell, 2004, p. 46). The three contextual variables of field, tenor, and mode are thus realized through ideational, interpersonal, and textual resources and choices of language, respectively.
Modality belongs to the interpersonal meta-function that essentially regards clauses and other linguistic units as "exchanges" of propositions and proposals, whereby a proposition involves an exchange of information and a proposal involves an exchange of "goods-and-services" (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2004, p. 146-147). When we exchange information as a proposition, we are essentially arguing whether something is (affirmative) or is not (negative), but in between these two extremes are also intermediate positions that can be realized through what systemic linguists call "modalization", which is one half of the overall concept of modality (Eggins, 1994, pp. 178-179). Modalization is, in other words, a linguistic "resource for presenting propositions non-categorically" (Schleppegrell, 2004, p. 60), enabling the expression of degrees of probability and usuality. Likewise, modality can also be recruited to argue about the obligation or inclination of proposals (Eggins, 1994, p. 179). Modality options in short "construe the area of meaning that lies between yes and no - the intermediate ground between positive and negative polarity" (Hasan & Perrett, 1994, p. 209).
Modalization thus enables the expression of the speaker's non-categorical attitude toward propositions through such lexico-grammatical resources as modal verbs (can/could, may/might, shall/should, must, etc.), adjectives (possible, certain, probable, inevitable, etc.), adverbs (probably, likely, perhaps, rarely, etc.), nouns (likelihood, possibility, probability, etc.), and other devices (in my opinion, in all likelihood, it seems thatâ€¦, etc.).
Modulation can likewise be realized to express the speaker's sense of obligation or inclination toward proposals through a wide range of linguistic resources, including modal verbs (must, should, ought to, etc.), adjectives (compulsory, mandatory, willing, etc.), adverbs (necessarily, willingly, etc.), and other forms (be required to, be inclined to, etc.).
1.7.2. Value of Modality
In terms of its value, that is the level or degree of its probability of execution or its distance to the positive or negative polar, the various types of modality: probability, usuality, obligation and inclination divide into one with either (H)igh, (M)edium or (L)ow value. A modality of H value is near the positive polar, which is the most probable one to be executed, whereas that of L is near the negative polar, which is the least probable modality to be done. A modality of M is intermediate or middle in the continuum, which lies between the two poles. The table below presents modality and the values.
Table 1.2 : Modality and the Values
Modality as presented in the table above are meanings which may be coded in
various linguistic units. The meanings are samples of modality. This is to say that a meaning may be coded by more than one linguistic units.
1.7.3. Modality Analysis
Modality is an aspect of interpersonal meaning. Therefore, in analyzing a text for modality the analysis is simultaneously done with the analysis of interpersonal function. The analysis of modality specifies the type, value and orientation. To exemplify a clause Ali always comes late to school is analyzed as in the following configuration.
Table 1.3 : Modality analysis of a clause
From a CDA perspective, language does not possess power per se. It takes its power from the powerful people who make use of it. This is the very reason why, in a majority of cases, critical linguists pick the view of deprived people and set out to analyze language critically, because those who are in power are responsible of the social inequalities (Van Dijk,1993). Power does not derive from language; rather language is used to fight against power.
It is in this context that this thesis examines the Twitter hashtag (#Jan25) , and attempts to describe to what extent Twitter has really influenced the Egyptian uprising. To investigate this question, tools from Systemic Functional Grammar and Critical Discourse Analysis are used to analyze the Mood, Modal auxiliary, and Person systems of the Egyptian revolution Tweets. This will be dealt with in the practical part of this thesis.
This chapter presents the methodological aspect of the present study. It consists of the aims of the study, research design, data collection, and data analysis from the micro-level (Hallidayan perspective) to the macro-level ( Fairclough perspective) as well as the discussion of the results.
2.2. Aims of the study
The study aims at finding the answer to the question(s) that is/are formulated as follows:
Can Twitter be considered as a" revolutionary tool" in the Arab spring? Egypt as a case study.
Can the 'Egyptian Revolution' be labeled 'Twitter Revolution'?
Using the Egyptian revolution as the empirical setting, two sets of questions are formulated from two different perspectives:
SFL questions: what type of Mood is mostly employed? who are the participants? what are the attitudes, opinions and judgements in these tweets?
CDA questions: who has the power? How do the attitudes and opinions reinforce the impression of power?
The answers to these questions help inform the ultimate research question.
The current study aims to partially bridge the gap by combining methods and analytical frameworks from Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) and Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) to analyze a dataset from the #Jan25 hashtag's tweets.
During the period of the Egyptian uprising, access to mainstream media was mainly blocked, access to the internet was also restricted and eventually inaccessible. Twitter was, thus, the only platform which communicated breaking news constantly and in real time.
It is because of this ability that platforms such as Twitter need to be analyzed and examined. The objective of this study was to determine the impact or the role of this social networking platform during the Egyptian revolution on people.
2.3. Research design
The study employs Halliday's Systemic Functional Grammar framework along with Fairclough's Critical Discourse Analysis to map the meaning of the selected features in the discourse of the tweets of the #Jan25 hashtag during the Egyptian revolution 2011.
Using a systemic approach as well as a CDA approach, this paper will explore and analyze the modality system- the speaker's attitude towards the truth of a proposition expressed in a sentence- as well as the mood and the person system in the Twitter discourse of the #Jan25 tag and see if these interpersonal features as linguistic tools can direct and control the behavior of the people and construct social relations. This study aims to provide more evidence about how each of these tools has something to contribute to the study of Twitter discourse.
The approaches adopted in this paper will observe Twitter data from the micro-level to the macro-level, both of which offer useful strategies for analyzing how language works in its social contexts.
2.4. Data collection
I collected a dataset of tweets, retrieved from the internet, covering the Egyptian uprising from the #Jan25 hashtag - one of the most popular tag used during this period of turmoil. The tag also featured in a majority of tweets cross-posted to other frequently used tags, such as #egypt or #Tahrir.
The dataset consists of Twenty-four (24) days of Twitter messages (from January 22nd to February 12th, 2011) from a subset of Egyptian Twitter-users (#Jan25). The total size is 130 messages, consisting of regular tweets, retweets, and replies.
2.5. Data analysis
This subsection includes the analysis of our data at both the micro-level (clause) to the macro-level (sentence or beyond). Before this, it is important to go through the discourse markers of hashtag and retweet on Twitter..
2.5.1. Hashtagging analysis
The most popular hashtag was #Jan25. Other related hashtags also used were #egypt and #Tahrir. For the purpose of this study, we limited our scope to the hashtag about the Egyptian revolution #Jan25.
Hashtags, symbolized by the # character, are used by Twitterers to group tweets by topic areas. The purpose of hashtags is not only to draw attention to main topics but they carry the connotation of familiarity with the topic of the tag as well. Hashtags are politically important because all tweets that include a particular hashtag appear together on Twitter site. For example, the following tweet contains the tag '#Egypt' indicating the subject matter of the tweet:
Pray for # Egypt: very worried as it seems that government is planning a war crime tomorrow against people. We are all ready to die .
2.5.2. Retweeting analysis
A Retweet is any message that contains the string "RT@ nickname". Retweets act as a form of endorsement, allowing individuals to rebroadcast content generated by other users. Thus, the content visibility is raised. Protesters from across the country can see what other protesters are saying, continue the conversation by replying to a tweet, or disseminate a particular tweet by retweeting. In most instances the RT will be followed by the @ username to 'source' the retweet:
Interesting RT@xxxx: I hear the internet in Egypt might be down tomorrow. Is this true?
What is in a tweet?
A reply starts with "@ user".
A mention contains "@ user".
A retweet has "RT@..." or "via @..." plus username.
A link (URL shortener- http://bit.ly/
A hashtag (#).
A regular tweet (only text).
Retweeting is a common practice especially among Twitter-users concerned with political topics. While the majority of retweets are verbatim copies of the original tweets (quotes), there are some retweets that contain comments.
2.5.3. Micro-level (lexico-grammar)
At the micro-level analysis, the Hallidayan perspective is utilized: analysis of mood, analysis of modal auxiliary, and analysis of pronoun system are categorized in this scope.
188.8.131.52. Mood analysis
When we interact, we use language to convey multiple functions such as : apology, order, complaint, invitation, confirmation and so on. According to Halliday (2000), most of the fundamental purposes in any interaction are giving and demanding a commodity of some kind.
Halliday (2000) classified two kinds of commodity, which he labeled as "information" and "goods-service" and then for speech roles as shown in the table below:
Table 2.1 : Basic Speech Roles (Halliday, 2000)
Generally speaking, statements are most naturally expressed by declarative clauses, questions are expressed by interrogative clauses, and commands are expressed by imperative clauses.
In functional grammar, the subject and finite make up the mood. The following diagram represents the mood system :
The speaker chooses from the mood system of a language to encode his/her message and attitude in a given discourse. Lipson (2002) contends that the mood an author chooses plays a crucial role in decoding his/her argument or contention.
The clauses in the data are largely declarative in structure. Among the 361 clauses in the whole dataset, 324 ( 90 %) are Indicative whereas 37 (10 %) are Imperative. Within the Indicative type system, "declarative" has 307 occurrences, constituting (95 % ) whereas "interrogative" has only 17 occurrences, constituting (05 %) .( see Figure 1 below).
Statements, then, outnumber the other mood structures. They communicate information about the topic discussed in the Twitter platform . The context calls for sharing of information through tweeting, mentioning, and retweeting.
Figure 2.1: Mood structures
184.108.40.206. Modal auxiliary analysis
The use of modal auxiliary is another feature found in our dataset. It is used to urge protesters to take action(1) and (2).
(1) "protesters insist they will not leave".
(2) "... millions will protest tomorrow against regime."
According to Freeborn (1995, p.163) "Modality enables us to refer not to facts, but to the possibility or impossibility of something happening, its necessity, certainty and whether the action is permitted".
Halliday (2000) views that through modality, the speaker takes up a position and signals the status and validity of his or her own judgements. If the commodity being exchanged is information, the clauses are labeled as proposition and modality expressions are termed as modalization which refers to the validity of proposition in terms of probability and usuality.
If the commodity is goods and service, modality expressions are defined as proposals and are termed as modulation which reflects how confident the speaker can be in the eventual success of the exchange in terms of obligation and inclination.
There are many ways to realize modality, including modal auxiliaries, adverbs, and mental-process verbs.
Table 2.2. presents the frequency of modal auxiliary found in our data:
Table 2.2 : The Frequency of Modal Auxiliary
Figure 2.2 : Frequency and percentage of Modal Auxiliary.
From the above table, we can notice that "will" is the most frequently used modal auxiliary. It is mainly used to provide information about future events based on the speaker's belief and perception. The use of "will" reveals the speaker's views towards the future (3) and (4) as in
(3) "anger bomb will explode in egypt any moment".
(4) " our children will study the history we're making".
The other modal auxiliaries like "will not" and "should" are less frequent. "would" and "can't" are also found in the Twitter text of the data under study.
Halliday (1994. p,357) views that "modulation refers to the semantic category of proposals; but all modalities are realized as indicative (that is as if they were propositions). Thus imperative "go home", when modulated, becomes indicative "you must go home!".
The two clauses (5) and (6) addressing the Twitter users
(5) "spread this photo" and
(6) "spread the hope",
when modulated become
"you must spread the photo",
"you must spread the hope" respectively.
Obligation "must" is also understood implicitly in the above indicatives.
The other two clauses, addressed to Moubarak,
(7) "stop resisting" and
(8) "come to Saudia"
express the speaker's judgement of obligation. When modulated, the clauses become indicatives:
"you must stop resisting" and
" you must come to Saudia".
Since modals represent some degree of uncertainty, a non- modalized clause will be considered stronger than a clause with a modal. From this perspective, the absence of explicit modality does express the speaker's highest degrees of certainty and / or obligation.
Under the deontic system, three modality values, reflecting the degrees of obligation, are captured by Halliday (1985, p.337). The following utterances are examples:
The Scales of Deontic Modality (Degrees of Obligation)
You may, can leave low
You should leave median
You must, will leave high
The lower the speaker's degree of obligation, the weaker level of authority s/he displays and vice versa.
I can feel it again.
We should submit appeals to attorney general.
The big boss got to go.
Take a look on egypt.
I hear the internet might be down tomorrow.
This should be turned into a monument.
Our dignity will be back.
Raise your head.
Table 2.3 : Representing Tweets position on a scale of obligation
220.127.116.11. Pronoun system analysis
Crystal (1995) defines a personal pronoun as a grammatical form referring directly to the speaker (first pronoun), addressee (second pronoun), or others involved in an interaction (third person). (Third person is beyond the scope of this study).
Personal pronouns are related to the relationship of power and solidarity. Throughout the data, the Twitter-users utilized personal pronouns. First and second person pronouns, together with their object forms, have been selected because "they define the situation interpersonally" (Koubali, 2007).
Table 2.4 presents the frequency of pronouns included in the data:
Table 2.4 :The Frequency of Personal Pronouns
Figure 2.3 : Frequency and percentage of personal pronouns.
Table 2.4 and figure 2.3 show that the pronouns "I" (33%), "you" (30%), and "we" (20%) are used to a greater extent than the other pronouns. They show that the Twitter-users may or may not be involved in the interaction.
"I" is used as a persuasive device to give a personal touch to the tweets. "I" is employed to show that the users are committing themselves to their beliefs and will practice what they preach. They will be responsible for their actions.
(9) " I'm in the streets",
(10) " I can't let this feeling go away again" .
The first singular pronoun is mostly used to give information :
(11) " I hear the internet in Egypt might be down tomorrow",
(12) " I can't type".
The person system can reflect the interaction effects and reveal how information is exchanged in Twitter discourse.
The second most frequently occurring pronoun is "you". It is used as a form of direct address by the authors. It is an attempt to involve the addressees and make them active parts.
(13) "why are you going down the street??" ,
(14) "if you don't know... take a look on egypt".
The first person plural pronoun "we" has both meaning of inclusion and exclusion. It is the third most frequently used pronoun in our data. It is used as a persuasive device to reflect joint responsibility. Since inclusive "we" refers to the speaker and the listener(s)/followers, we can say that the user is speaking on behalf of the addressee. Here "we" may be used to persuade the followers and encourage solidarity.
The inclusive "we" sometimes refers to protesters (15) and (16) or to all Egyptians (17):
(15) "We got brutally beaten up by police".
(16) "We are all ready to die".
(17) "We've been promised he'll be released soon". ( 'he' refers to Khaled Saeed").
Whereas the exclusive "we", in which the Twitter-user is not included, refers to soldiers(18):
(18) "More than one person in army told us not to be afraid. We'll protect you".
2.5.4. Macro-level (beyond sentence)
Halliday(1985, 20) explains that "[w]hereas in its experiential meaning language is a way of reflecting, in its interpersonal meaning language is a way of acting". Now the focus of discourse analysis will be on how the Twitter-users interact with each other through Mood system, Modal auxiliary system, and Person system.
18.104.22.168. Mood analysis
In terms of the mood, most of the clauses in our data are construed in declarative mood. The authors use this type of mood for the purpose of providing information to persuade the followers. There are, however, interrogative clauses as well as imperative clauses throughout the data .
Mood is also significant for identification. According to Fairclough (2003. p, 166):
"Experts, for example, who overwhelmingly use declarative clauses to make statements identify themselves differently from experts who use interrogative clauses to ask questions".
22.214.171.124 Modal auxiliary analysis
Our dataset begins with a proposition that something or someone is mandatory (got to).
(19) "The big boss got to go"
The big boss here refers to Hosni Mubarak. It is compulsory for Mubarak to leave the country. This proposition could not have been produced before 2011 in Egypt. In Egypt and other countries, where freedom of expression and the media have been restricted , this proposition is mostly significant as new media make it harder to silence opposition voices. This text shows an awareness on the part of the users that there is now a new social platform called Twitter where users can post their tweets and retweet . This hypothesis provides the basis for our research question : Can Twitter be considered as 'a revolutionary tool' in the Egyptian revolution?
This proposition (19) is followed by general assertions about Egypt, which move from unmodalized (are) as in
(20) "We're all Khaled Saeed"
to modalized (will, might) propositions like
(21) "anger bomb will explode in egypt any moment" and
(22) " I hear the internet in Egypt might be down tomorrow".
This sequence is terminated by the Twitter-user, who shifts the orientation away from the national concern (Egypt) to the personal concern (haircut) because the Egyptians' goal is achieved. Mubarak left the country.
(23) "It's time for a haircut".
Statistically speaking, non-modalized utterances outnumber modalized ones, and this high level of frequency could reflect an interpretative view of the tweets as straightforward and forceful ones. Most utterances communicate a high level of obligation ( in what will happen to Mubarak and Egypt, how Egyptian's objectives will be achieved).
It is the power of the twitter-users who believe in the justness of their cause and in their attitudes and judgements of what is right and wrong.
However, it is essential to pinpoint that the notion of modality in Arabic is different from that of English ( the retrieved tweets were translated from Arabic to English).
Because of the mismatch between the modal systems in English and Arabic in the first place, and the looseness of translating modalized expressions does in effect present two different ideological positions in the texts analysed (Badran, 2001). This mismatch adds to the complexity of translating modal expressions and increases the risk of misinterpretation.
126.96.36.199. Pronoun system analysis
Personal pronouns are multifunctional, or to borrow Davidson's (1996) words, they give " pragmatic weight" to the utterance, and this 'weight' derives from the fact that utterances containing personal pronouns are more personal and filled with emotion.
The pronoun switch from "you" to "I" is an important discursive feature: the discourse moves from general claims to the user's particular sense.
The use of "we" is certainly manipulated for solidarity's sake. It is employed to set group or team spirit and to fill the speech with ideological content. (Wilson,1990). The use of the inclusive "we" may mean that the user is not alone; others share the same opinion. The prevalence of the pronoun "we" may suggest a common denominator among the Twitter-users whose shared bond is Egypt.
Additionally, the users included inside their tweets jokes (24) and Twitter jargon (25) like :
(24) " Uninstalling dictator COMPLETE - installing now: egypt 2.0:......100% #egypt #Jan25 #tahrir".
(25) " Could all the state spies who followed us on twitter last two weeks please unfollow. Thanks. #Jan25".
2.6. Discussion of Results
This section reports the results of a systemic functional analysis and a critical discourse analysis of the hashtag #Jan25 tweets during the Egyptian uprising. A detailed discussion of the findings is presented below.
Back to the research question guiding this study: can Twitter be considered as 'a revolutionary tool' in the Egyptian uprising? The answer seems a resounding 'NO'. It takes more to throw a strong regime.
The words 'revolution' and 'revolutionary' have been related to the Arab uprisings. Twitter probably is not revolutionary. As Wise mentioned in his interview: "Your Twitter account doesn't make you. You and where you are professionally makes your Twitter account". Twitter the service is a tool in the hands of the users. Keeping 'followers' more informed is what Twitter has probably just done. Twitter, as a form of interpersonal communication, provided an ongoing stream of events in real time throughout the Egyptian turmoil. Indeed, Twitter was a news disseminator during that period. Disseminating information is easier on Twitter because of its features such as retweeting, mentioning, sharing links, and hashtags.
The hypothesis adopted stresses that Twitter is indeed a revolutionary tool; but as far as the role of Twitter during the Arab Spring is concerned, it was just a means to spread the word, a means to disseminate information. It is because of this ability that some of the Arab revolutions have been unfairly labeled "Twitter Revolutions". This label itself is infused with ideology. It shows the hegemony of the West over the East because Twitter is a Western technological product. Actually, there are many non-digital factors that could make a revolution happen. The tools of revolutions were the people who created the events not the social networks. Technology alone does not make revolutions. The will of the people and their readiness to die are the most vital ingredients.
(26) "We are all ready to die".
The causes of the protests involve a combination of non-technological ingredients including: decades of repression, political and economic marginalization, unemployment, government corruption, and poor living conditions.
(27) " 45% of egyptians live under poverty line with less than a dollar a day".
As Schuler (2008, p.5) states in his book "Perhaps people had finally reached their boiling point" so that it would be hardly impossible to silence the oppressed and the exploited voices.
As for the content of tweets, studies have shown that "what you're saying relative to the existing conversation is what really matters in spreading knowledge online."(Keller, 2012). The most influential tweets are the ones that are relevant to existing conversation of the people. "What makes a difference is having the right message for the right people".(Keller, 2012). So, the time was ripe and the people were ready for a political change- to overthrow the regime.
Tweets are intended to inform as well as persuade and reinforce a certain ideology. Indeed, the mood choice- mostly declarative, the person system- indicates the nature of the participants in situation, and the modal auxiliaries- express the author's judgements and attitudes, helped give the tweets some relevance to the existing conversation of the people.
As mentioned in the first chapter of this paper, kamrava (1990, p.12) , in his definition of revolution, states that
...to overthrow the regime, two social factors are important. First, the opposition groups themselves need to have the appropriate social means to disseminate their propaganda and to establish necessary links with the popular classesâ€¦Second, the popular classes must be dissatisfied with the existing conditions and therefore be inclined to support the opposition groups.
From the above quote, we can say that people are the tools of revolution: the opposition groups as well as the dissatisfied popular classes (the masses). And a social medium is needed for the two groups to connect. The human factor is, therefore, of paramount importance in this case rather than the technological one. We can label the Egyptian revolution as the "revolution of the angry/poor/oppressed people" not the "Twitter revolution" as it was named by some Western reporters.
Starting with the opening tweets of our data, a figure was given showing that almost half of the population in Egypt is poor.
(27a) "45% of egyptians live under poverty line with less than a dollar a day".
This was mainly one of the reasons why the protesters were "going down the streets". Poverty is one of the non-digital factors of revolution as well as unemployment.
This paper uses SFL and CDA to analyze data from the tag #Jan25 over a period of twenty-two days during the Egyptian revolution (from January 22nd to February 12th, 2011).
We could say that language is forming the meaning and the meaning conveys ideology of social community. Fairclough (1995) insists that discourse should be understood as a form of social practice. That is discourse is the representing form , at the same time it is the practicing form that people act toward the world and other people.
Through this micro-level to the macro-level analysis, we can conclude that the power of language use is forming potential power relations between people.
In this concluding chapter, I shall provide a summary of the main findings of the research, point to some limitations of the study and suggest further research. The thesis closes with a consideration of some pedagogical implications, and a general conclusion.
3.2. Summary of the Main Findings
Moving from the micro-level analysis to the macro-level analysis, this paper offers a view of both systemic functional linguistics (SFL) and critical discourse analysis (CDA), and looks at the relationship between these perspectives to language through Mood system, Person system , and Modal auxiliary system. In this study, we have shown how Twitter was used as a medium in the hands of the users. We have confirmed that Twitter was not a revolutionary tool as far as the Egyptian uprising is concerned. We have emphasized the role of people behind this social platform during the 2011 protests in Egypt.
3.3. Limitations and Further Study
The most important limitation to the current study is that it was conducted on a narrow, nonrandom sample of the tweets of the #Jan25 hashtag. It will be important to replicate this study with a large corpus. There are other areas that need to be explored to fully address the research question.
There is, also, a need for more qualitative and quantitative analyses of the tweets of the hashtag #Jan25. With a larger Twitter corpus and with a computational tool, future research could yield same or different results. A close study of large corpora could offer an important insight into the discourse of Twitter as far as the Egyptian uprising is concerned.
The idea of Twitter as a revolutionary tool needs deep speculations since Twitter has not passed the test of time yet. At the time of the 2011 Arab uprisings , Twitter was turning five years old. It seems too early to measure its influence on people.
However, it is useful to ask some questions for further study:
Could these tweets have been posted before 2011?
Could the Egyptian revolution have happened without social networks?
Could the Egyptian revolution have happened before the Tunisian revolution?
These intriguing questions have not yet been widely researched.
3.4. Pedagogical Implications
There are many areas in which this research may have relevance. Education is one of the areas where the combination of both SFL and CDA may be beneficial. The findings of this study could be conducive to developing students' critical thinking abilities in comprehension and production of language.
Twitter, also, may be used as an educational tool in EFL classrooms. It may be usef