[“The Role and Impact of Social Media as a Tool for Mobilization during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011”]
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During the most recent years, the internet has intensified and disseminate in rapid pace like no other phenomenon in the world today. Referring to ITU and World bank, from 20000 to 2014, the number of individuals using internet rose, from 390 milion to 2,923 billion (ITU, 2014). This unmistakably demonstrates the impact of internet on our lives and how that more individuals of different age at this time utilize the web as a part of their regular life to be in touch and correspond with companions or associates, in order to purchase items, watch films, read daily news, or even just look for data that is important to them. In the previous century, the initial stage of internet which was also known as WEB 1.0 was very limited and people could only view the content that was already created for them. However, recently with the technological development there is an increased interaction between internet user, which has lead to Web 2.0. Web 2.0, contrary to Web 1.0, allows people create and share its own content. Flew (2005) , in few words, compared the advancement of the web from 1.0 to Web 2.0 by describing as a “move from personal websites to blogs and from publishing to participation” (Flew, 2005). The advent of Web.2.0, new media and sites like Facebook or Twitter, has allowed people from different parts of the world are able to experience and witness what is happening all around the world. Hence, new media has changed our world. It has broadened our means of communication and allowed us to connect with people across spaces and time in unprecedented ways.
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The emergence of technologies summarized as new media undoubtedly provides new means of activism for the world’s people. Referring to Castells (2007) “the recent advantages in technology, and how the technology is being used have created a new paradigm that is reconfiguring how power is negotiated in the public sphere”. Therefore, the new media has essential implication for political activists who under this new paradigm are able to as Castell points out “ build their autonomy, and confront the institutions of society in their own terms projects”(Castells, 2007).
Many crucial historical events, protest and revolutions were feasible thanks to invention of new technologies through different periods of history. The discovery of the print in Europe in mid 15th century helped the Reformation; 1848 revolutions occurred thanks to the Telegraph System which allowed rapid diffusion of political news across the Europe. Therefore technology continues to have an enormous impact in our lives. Social media has had vast impact even in recent times of political crisis such was the Arab Spring that spread-out in Egypt resulting in what many referred to as Twitter Revolution. Accordingly, I will aim to explore the role and the impact of the cyber activism through platforms such Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs on mobilizing people for collective action. The main research question lies on how has the social media impacted and effected the creation of social movements and their mobilization on overthrowing an authoritarian regime as in Egypt during the Arab Spring of 2011.
In recent years, new social media has been a very key topic which many scholars and academics explored.
Professors Liervrouw and Livingstone in the Handbook of New Media: Student Edition (2002), which, according to Ellen Wartella, is a the first major review of interactive technologies and their cultural and social context defines social media; “information and communication technologies and their associated social contexts”( Lievrouw and Livingstone, 2002). Not everyone agrees with effectiveness of Social media, B.J. Mendelson in his book “Social Media” is bullshit” (2012) tries to expose the myths of social media. He illustrates how the conception of “social media” first came to importance, and why it has such a prevailing presence in the marketing field. Furthermore, he demonstrates why the Facebook friends and Twitter followers doesn’t not mean nothing without old-fashioned real-world connections. He analyzes famous stories of social media “achievements,” and reveals some unsettling truths behind the surface. What’s more he tells how to best control the potential of the Internet—without spending a fortune in the process (Mendelson, 2012).
There is a debate among scholars whether how much the social media plays a role and has an impact on collective action and brining social change by toppling authoritarian regimes.
Clay Shirky (2008) is one of the foremost researchers to develop on the effects of the internet and support the role of social media as a new social tool for mobilization. In his book “Here Comes Everybody” he argues in favor of Internet effects on organization. Shirky states that with the creation of social media, a group can be formed without the previous limitations of time and cost. According to him “tools that provide simple ways of creating groups lead to new groups, […] and not just more groups but more kinds of groups” (Shirky, 2008). On the other hand, not everyone agrees with Shirky’s ideas. Malcom Galdwell, a Canadian journalist, in his 2010 journal is doubtful on the emancipation and empowers aspects of social networking in general. He is skeptical of revolutionary potential of it. Social media, according to him, creates only weak ties which are not powerful enough for powerful action in the terrain. As he puts “once the activists were defined by their cause, while now they are defined by their tool”(Galdwell, 2010).
Numerous people in the scholarly world, media and policy making circles has attempted to comprehend and explain the reasons for the Egyptian Uprising in 2011. The mainstream hypotheses range from poverty and suppression to years of aggravation from unfulfilled expectation of a new generation, etc.
Mohamed El Bendary, an expert on Middle Eastern Affairs, in his book “The Egyptian Revolution: Between Hope and Despair, Mubarak to Morsi” (2013), offer an account and a chronology of the 2011 Egypt’s uprising and its outcomes. As an Egyptian-American, he also analysis the US-Egypt relation and see if Egypt can became a democratic country without US economic assistance or intervention in the interior affairs. Furthermore, Tarek Osman a leading world expert in modern history of Egypt, in his journal for Cairo Review, gives a depth analysis for the causes of Mubarak fall (Osman, 2011). Also, in his book “Egypt on the Brink: From Nasser to Mubarak” which received universal recognition, he unfolds the reader with the situation in Egypt by giving a prospective on the remarkable demonstrations of January and February of 2011 and the ousting from power of Mubarak. In the renewed publication of his book, he puts those events solely in the framework of Arab Spring movement that continued to distress the entire Southern hemisphere.
The 2011 was a key year in the history of Egypt. Suddenly, an unexpected revolution was taking place before everyone’s eyes. On 25th January of 2011, which was also a public holiday known as National Police Day, and 11 days after the president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled from power in Tunisa, Egyptian demonstrators stormed in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and began their struggle in order to bring down Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, dissolve assembly, and draft a novel constitution. To analyze the characteristic’s and the causes of the Egyptian Revolution is important to get familiar with it’s historical background.
In 1981, after the assassination of Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian people continued living under oppressive and authoritarian regime, hence with a different name. The alleged “Modern Pharaoh,” Hosni Mubarak became one of the longest leaders in power of the modern Egyptian history, ruling for nearly 30 years. With coming to power, Hosni Mubarak, introduced the “Emergency Law”, through which military officers and government were allowed to violate peoples privacy and detain them for any period of time, without any reason (Kanalley, 2011). As time went by, people began to feel discontent with his internal and external policy. The gradual worsening of socio economic condition, overwhelming and wide-spread corruption, and gap between rich and poor’s fueled the irritation and dissatisfaction of Egypt’s citizens towards his regime (Osman, 2012). A part of the problem was that Mubarak was fully detached and lived isolated from its own people. Tarik Osman writes that people of Egypt knew very little about him personally and he was mostly associated with ceremonials and public events (Osman, 2012). Consequently, the resentment aimed and targeted him personally. During his 30 years in power, people of Egypt only knew him as someone who was responsible for their everyday misery and troubles. This dissatisfaction towards Mubarak, gradually began to turn into violent manifestion of hatred. From 2004, there were many small demonstration where people began tearing his bill-boards and pictures in the street (Osman, 2012). According to Osman, Mubarak in turn responded by relying on containment, coercion and confrontation. Through containment, he wanted to introduce investment plans in order to ease the demands and lessen the pressure especially from the middleclass (Osman, 2012). Coercion turn out to be apparent as a tool to maintain any possible challenge, such as crushing of protest, restriction on civic organization, and the prevalent use of torture (Osman, 2012). On the other hand, confrontation was done in order to restrain any possible potential political force from challenging him in the near future (Osman, 2012).
The pressure, determination, and spirit of youngusters—2/3 were under age thirtyfive – forced the government to more and more depend on confrontation and coercion rather than containment. However the coercion used by the government gradually started to became unsustainable as the accessibility of Internet and international media gave to population a better consciousness and the prospect to mobilize their dissatisfaction
The impact of Social Media as a tool for collective action and mobilization can be examined through a set of theories. Clay Shirky (2011) is one of the early researchers to develop on social media as a new social tool for collective action. He asserts that throughout the years, the world technology framework has gotten denser, more intricate, and more participatory. Individuals have picked up more noteworthy access to data, more chances to take part out in the open discourse, and hence, an upgraded capacity to embrace collective action (Shirky 2011). Thus, according to him these innovations such as, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter has become a reality of life and can help facilitate publics demand for change. People, activists, governmental and non governmental organizations, telecommunications firms are all actors that engage and participate in social media sites.
Furthermore a key component of political participation can be explained through Manuel Castells network theory, where he believes that weak ties, anononymosity in internet and characteristics of online communication provide a solid ground for activism (Castells, 1996). According to him, Internet has shaped a ‘space of autonomy’ for the trade of information and the distribution of feelings of collective indignation and hope. He points that the lnternet network has turn out to be the tangible supporter of an innovative kind of political activism, an activism that sustains on horizontal networks, on political autonomy, leaderless organization, and baseless solidarity (Castells, 2012).
Resource mobilization theory is based on the idea that a social movement success depends on the ability to mobilize people through resources such as time, capital, organizational skills, and several social/political event. By referring to this theory, lnternet offers communication bridges that helps a society build up and provide resources that can be used to coordinate protest where government mistrust is huge and civil activism is steadily suppressed.
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Social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube were main actors in providing communitication between protestors and activists. The role and utilization of social media in the Egyptian uprising in 2011 has gathered a considerate amount of interest in the world.
We are all Khaleed Said One of the major motives that sparked the hugest outrage in Egypt during that time was the police brutality that resulted in the death of Khaled Said . Khalid Said who was only twenty eight years and a computer engeenigering student, when two police offers entered in the internet caffe and beat him to death, supposedly for uploading a video in the internet, where police officers are seen sharing the drugs they’ve just seized (Bbc.co.uk, 2011). A picture of his corpse in the morgue snapped by his brother with a cellphone, went viral in the internet and caused a major outcry in the public opinion. The image published in the inteternet, according to HRW, showed a fractured skull, dislocated jaw, broken nose, and numerous other signs of trauma (Wedeman, 2010).
The shock and outrage on his brutal death lead to the creation of the Facebook page “We Are All Khaled Said” which later became influential in future organization of demonstrations of 2011.The Facebook page promptly gathered over 460,000 users who spread around the internet the graphic image of Khaled’s disfigured body and YouTube videos contrasting those images with a healthy Said. â€©
The day president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled from power in Tunisa, “We are All Khalid Said” created an event in Facebook and declared an uprising in Egypt aswell. Approximatly 500.000 member were invited only in Facebook, to the demonstration of 25th of January, where they could signal whether they’d would attend by clicking “Yes”, “Maybe”, or “No”.
Seven days before the 25th of January protest, a women named Asma, posted a video on Facebbok, where she asked the people to take part in the demonstration of 25th. Her video went viral and the strongest aspect of this video was that she was not afraid to show her face and identify herself. According to Good man (2011), “the courage of this act, speaking out so forcefully as a women, inspired many others to start posting their images online”. Many argue that those affecting calls inspired many to join the uprising;
On 25th January of 2011, which day also coincide with National Police Day, huge demonstrations erupted in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Suez. The main reason behind the protest was the excessive abuse of police forces, especially in the case of Khalid Said. Among the requests of protesters were the resignation of Police Minister, the re-establishment of a fair minimum wage, abolishing the emergency law, and mandate restrictions for the president.
The protestors plan for the first protest of 25th of January was held though online communication, via different Facebook pages (mainly “We are all Khaled”) and twitter accounts. Their goal was to increase the number of protests in as much cities as possible, especially mobilize those on poorer regions (deprived from PC and internet), and prevent the police cordons (Nuns, 2011). The police was aware about the protests, but, according to EI Bendary, they were expecting only a few number of demonstrators as happened in protests held six years earlier, however they were stunned when they saw the enormous number of activists gathered in Tahiri Square (Bendary 2012, pg 20). According to El Bendary, police must have not been aware of the lnternet use in Egypt, which had resulted in a massive digital connectivity.
The thesis has analyzed the role and impact of social media in the Egyptian Revolution. Throughout the paper the thesis has expanded and examined the role of The lnternet as a vital instrument that was used during the Arab Spring, especially in Egypt, and how it facilitated the revolution. Consequently, the ideas and beliefs that were diffused all the way through social-network sites, lead to a greater organization and mobilization for collective political action. Therefore, social media can be very effective in delivering the message and coordinating the activism, however its influence should not be overhyped. There are also many other factors that foster the change.
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