CMN598 Rhetoric of Social Issues
Advances in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and digital media have led to transformations in the way humans communicate and interact. One of the latest waves of the new media is a social media tool that have “introduced new communication patterns, created new forms of expression and stimulated wide civic participation” (Bardici, 2012). In the recent past, social media platforms have become important in driving social change. A case in point is the Arab Spring. In Egypt, for instance, social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube were instrumental in fuelling the revolt that led to the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s government. Twitter used more than other social media; therefore, this paper analyzes 12 individual activists tweets and draws the social movement theories. This paper also uses rhetorical to assess the use of twitter in political change in the revolution of the Arab World, with an emphasis on Egypt. The paper aims to determine whether Twitter gave voice to marginalized persons and if it indeed re-created political divides. Additionally, the paper seeks to evaluate how the tweets advocating political change used words, phrases and symbols to inform the audience and arouse their anger towards the existing political systems.
The “Arab Revolution”, or what is more widely known worldwide as the “Arab Spring”, refers to the 2010 social uprisings that occurred and, to a lesser degree that have continued all across the Middle East. It is a collective term, which represents the wave of twenty first century revolution in the Middle East. The revolution has been marked by political and social demonstrations, protest, and wars that transpired in the Arab Region from roughly December 18th, 2010 through 2012 (Anderson, 2011).
In this particular revolt, the Arab rulers have been forced out of their regimes in several Middle Eastern countries like Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen. Arab Spring also included the civil protests which emerged in Syria and Bahrain; there were even larger demonstrations and the that ensued in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Sudan in the Summer of 2011 (Beinin & Vairel, 2011). The phrase, “Arab Spring”, is also used in the more minor wave of protests that have happened across Djibouti, Lebanon, Mauritania, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Western Sahara in July, 2012 (Beinin & Vairel, 2011). However, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, and Saudi Arabia were somewhat unchanged by this mini-revolution (Beinin & Vairel, 2011).
This paper explores whether tweets gave voice to marginalized persons and if it indeed re-created political divides using rhetorical analyzes and social movements theories. Specifically, my intention is to analysis the rhetorical words, phrase, symbol in the tweets during the revolution, on the actual social movements themselves, and ultimately how the rhetorical tweets have sparked political change in the Arab Region from 2010-2012. The public information supplied by these tweets in the social media was a fundamental feature of the modern-day activism that developed across many Arab nations. In many Middle Eastern countries, which are highly involved with media technologies, the revolutionary individual activists who served significant functions in the Arab Spring utilized Twitter as a major tool in expressing their ideas concerning the violations of their governments (Kassim, 2012).
Context, Background and Approach
There has been a long impasse between the theoretical and methodological assessment of peaceful versus violent social movements. At the core, both peaceful and violent movements contain the same essential feature of wanting to create some form of social change. The Arab Spring was no exception. Both methods, peaceful and violent, have been used effectively through social movements to change political that were seen as unjust throughout the world. Now, “social movements often splinter into factions over the use of coercive tactics, particularly violent ones, to achieve moral ends” (Stewart, Smith, and Denton, 2012). Conversely, peaceful means typically requires restraint in responding to injustice, tyranny, and anger; this method does not answer violence with violence, even when the people are being victimized in the process.
Scholars seem to understand the method of peaceful protest in terms of it requiring more courage, patience, and restraint than violence. This method also seems to, upon principal, honor the human being above anything else. However, many scholars, and people lay alike, view this method as the most challenging and complicated form of resistance because it requires a more diverse approach compared to methods of violence (Violence and Non-Violence in the Arab Spring, 2012). “The pro-life and animal movements range from those who believe they must bring about change through prayer, peaceful protest, and the ballot box and those who believe violence and assassination are the only ways to stop the slaughter of innocent unborn humans and animals” (Stewart, Smith, and Denton, 2012). An unfortunate and paradoxical feature of any social movement, in our case the Arab Spring, is that no matter how non-violent the protesters act, they are often met with violent retribution; such is the case with the various Arab governments who attempted to quell the uprisings through brute force and violence. Stewart, Smith, and Denton (2012) discuss that “ activists portray themselves as victims who merely respond to violence with violence. They have a legitimate, moral right to fight back”. These types of instances often create a difficult interplay between the two theoretical approaches, and sometimes these encounters become so intense that protesters are themselves confronted with the difficult decision of using violence to fight back.
In the first three months of 2011 there was a trend of certain terms that were being utilized as “hashtags”, which is a tool the users use to search for tweets that have a common topic and to begin a conversation, that included: “Egypt”, “Jan25”, “Libya”, “Bahrain” and “protest” (Huang, 2011). The hashtag “Egypt” had 1.4 million mentions in the said 3 months, while “Jan25” had 1.2 million mentions. The hashtag “Libya” had 990,000 mentions while hashtag “Bahrain” had 640,000 mentions and “protest” had 620,000 mentions (Huang, 2011). The peaks of documented tweets occurred mainly during the critical points of the revolution; there seemed to be a correlation between certain turning points in the revolution and the increase of tweets. These tweets, as categorized by these popular hashtags, broadcasted various updates, directions, and mobilization strategies to the local people as they participated in the revolution.
Generally, the number of users increased by 30 percent to 27.7 million in 2011 as compared to 18 percent growth during the same period in 2010 (Huang, 2011). In 2009, the number of users nearly doubled from 14.8 million. In Bahrain, Twitter users grew by 15 percent in the first three months of 2011 as compared to 6 percent over the same period in 2010 (Huang, 2011). Egypt saw 29 percent growth compared to 12 percent last year, while Tunisia had 17 percent growth compared to 10 percent in 2010 (Huang, 2011). That means this revolution has enforce people to be apart of this revolution to join protest, or keep in touch of what happing.
It is also worth noting that more than 5 million Egyptians were registered and documented users of Facebook at the onset of the Arab Spring. The Facebook page "We Are All Khaled Said" was renowned within the Arab Region and provided significant support to youth movements in organizing and facilitating messaging and outreach to other populations, including the 18-day occupation of Tahrir Square (Lindsey, 2012). In terms of statistics, the Facebook users in Egypt dramatically rose to 3 million from a mere 450,000 during the first six months after the revolution started. It became 5 million in 2012 (Lindsey, 2012).
Facebook usage also increased in the Arab region between January and April of 2010, and within specific junctures of time the number of users more than doubled. Almost 9 out of 10 Egyptians and Tunisians surveyed in March of 2010 stated that they were using Facebook to prepare protests or spread awareness about the protests (Huang, 2011). These data seem to indicate that those within, and outside of, the Arab regions were fully embracing digital technology as a means to, again, peacefully protest and spread the word regarding their social movement (Lindsey, 2012).
The head of social media at Al Jazeera, Riyaad Minty, considered the medium as a “giant speech bubble” recounting the events in the region (Hounshell, 2011). In this trend, the use of information technologies and social media may be viewed as the new “technical” criterion for pursuing peaceful and mass protest movements (Stepanova, 2011).
Scholar, however, determined that Twitter is not the “maker of political revolutions, but the vanguard of a media one” (Hounshell, 2011). In rapid time, it has become a real-time news stream for global news junkies. Now, suddenly Twitter has become the most important tool for following and learning more about the significant developments sweeping the Arab region and abroad (Hounshell, 2011).
Freelon, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington, the “Twitter Revolution” in the Middle East is actually the way the tool is changing how the international audience is viewing the developments in the region (Hounshell, 2011). It is considered a platform for the external world to discuss big breaking news such as Hosni Mubarak's resignation, the start of a new protest, and similar types of major events. In these instances, Twitter has been used in similar ways to how one would utilize the more traditional means of media outlets such as: CNN, BBC News, and other established news networks. The main difference, though, is the informality or the intimacy of the news stories (Hounshell, 2011).
Social Movements Theories
The question of why populations that had appeared quiescent will suddenly rise up against their leaders in protest, riot, and full-blown revolt has intrigued and confounded rulers and researchers. Social movement theory suggests three interrelated causes, each of which is insufficient by itself, but which in combination can fan smoldering resentment into mass revolt: a perceived threat and the opportunity to act, access to resources, and a unifying message. As this section notes, access to new social media may be helping bring these three factors together more quickly and efficiently than ever.
Opportunity and Threat
Disaffected populations face numerous obstacles in attempting to mobilize, while opportunities to overcome those obstacles are rare and tend to fluctuate over time. Doug McAdam has suggested that the socio-political environment becomes vulnerable to collective action in three different and interrelated ways: political instability; an enhanced political position for the aggrieved population; and ideological openness.
Political instability occurs when elite control of the political status quo is weakened by events such as economic crises, armed conflict, large-scale natural disaster, and so on. An increase in the political position (i.e., power) of aggrieved populations can result from broad social changes that occur over extended periods. Finally, social change can lead the wider population to tolerate alternative and sometimes even subversive ideas championed by the aggrieved population. More recently, scholars have noted that expanding political opportunities are more likely to be a factor in democratic societies, while in autocratic societies it is often substantial threats to a group's interests or survival that matter. Drawing on Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky's observation that individuals are especially adverse to loss, many scholars argue that groups will risk far more to preserve what they have than on what they might gain.
Whether it is the expansion of opportunities or an increase in threats, neither will lead to collective action unless groups perceive them as such. An established political order can be reeling, but if no group notices this, it is unlikely that any will take advantage of the situation to bring about change. Similarly, if a group does not recognize that its interests or its very existence are threatened, then it may not act in time to avert its own destruction.
Favorable and/or threatening changes in the political environment only increase the probability that nascent insurgencies will mobilize. Whether they actually do also depends on whether they have access to and are able to appropriate the resources necessary to mobilize and sustain their cause.10 Another enabling factor is access to a network of pre-existing organizations (formal and informal) that can provide the institutional foundation on which to build a movement. These also help link people to activists, form and sustain the moral outrage that feeds insurgencies, and facilitate mobilization and deployment for insurgent activities.11 Along with fostering a sense of solidarity, networks can also contribute other key resources, such as the ability to monitor participants (the latter is especially important when defection poses serious security issues to insurgencies), leaders, and communications.12 One other resource that incipient movements often need is "free spaces" (e.g., coffee houses, religious institutions, neighborhood bars, ungoverned spaces) that are beyond the surveillance and control of authorities, and where groups can frame the narratives (e.g., "We shall overcome.") that accompany successful mobilization efforts.
As noted at the outset, discontent by itself does not produce social movements and insurgencies; there needs to be what Christian Smith calls "the development of an insurgent consciousness," which occurs when the social situation is framed in such a way that people feel compelled to mobilize. A budding social movement, however, cannot expect that all potential members will be able to grasp fully the group's ideology. Thus, movement elites generally frame their group's core message in generalized ideological snippets, much like bumper stickers, that are easily communicated to their target audience. Given the 140-character limitation of Twitter messages (see discussion below), Twitter appears to be an ideal tool for broadcasting ideological snippets and framing grievances for delivery to a social movement's target audience.
The datasets were collected through the Twitter; using a modified version of tracking tweets of #Egypt form the most active activists. An interpretive textual analysis was employ to examine 12 different tweets wrote by seven individual activists during the revolution. Specifically, TravellerW is an economic consultant whose blog is called The Traveller Within is a travelogue and political commentary board. Tarekshalaby (Tarek Shalaby) is a web designer. His tent in Tahrir became known as Freedom Motel. 3arabawy (Hossam el-Hamalawy) is a blogger, journalist and photographer. Norashalaby (Nora Shalaby) is an archaeologist and activist, sister of tarekshalaby. Sandmonkey (Mahmoud Salem) runs the most widely read Egyptian blog in English – Rantings of a Sandmonkey. Beleidy (Amr El Beleidy) is a travel writer and co-founder of touringa.com. Gsquare86 (Gigi Ibrahim) is a socialist activist. Finally, ashrafkhalil (Ashraf Khalil) is a journalist who has written for Al-Masry Al-Youm, the Times and others. Tweets and users accounts were selected randomly to analysis the rhetorical of these tweets in examining the words, phrases and symbols to inform the audience and arouse their anger towards the existing political systems.
TravellerW And a lovely revolution to you too, sir. Live from Cairo – we are back and excited like we've never been before! #Egypt #jan25 11:42:21, 2 February
In this tweet (127 characters) address to the audiences, TravellerW placed the foundation on which his future rhetoric would shape, solidifying of the resistance in this revolution. The phrase “we are back” shows the side of being strong and will never give up. He used term “live” to get the readers attention; readers may participate to this protest because it is happing now.” Lovely revolution” refers to the peaceful protest, which will persuade others to be apart of this revolution. Stewart, Smith, and Denton (2012) explain in their book “Persuasion and Social Movements”, “if an institution represses peaceful, nonviolent dissent and refused to enforce or obey the laws, it may undermine its legitimacy in the eyes of the people and other institution”. Using these words and phrases was to transfer the moment to others in same place or outside and have them in their side.
tarekshalaby Internet's back in #Egypt. I've been camping out in Tahrir for 4 days n will remain until #Mubarak leaves. #jan25 12:03:06
Tarekshalaby evoked resistance in this tweet in reference to change the political situation. He(or she) states that they will not leave until Mubarak does, and says that they have already been there for four days. Stating that he has been there for four days already, is a way of providing evidence of his determination and fortitude. He appears to want to inspire others to follow suit and join him in a show of resistance. We can assume that this resistance method is also peaceful because “camping out” is a peaceful method of protest that involves remaining in a place of turmoil in numbers until the demands of the public are taken care of by the government of a nation.
3arabawy Here r the latest updates: The govt is countermobilizing against us now. There r several pro-Mubarak protests taking place in Cairo now. 12:20:04
This post contains a sense of urgency without needing the use of exclamations and contains no hashtags that might lighten the message contained within the post. The writer states that the government is going to use military action against the protestors. The political views of this protestor are unclear because he states that there are several Pro-Mubarak protests going on and the pro attached to the word Mubarak which implies that these protests are in support of Mubarak but he himself does not state what political position he is taking. This person may be neutral and merely attempting to inform the public by posting this on Twitter but his use of the word “us” when referring to whom the government is mobilizing against infers that he is involved with the protests, it is just unclear which side he is representing.
3arabawy We r at very critical stage. The counterrevolution is out in full steam. You will collect our dead bodies from garbage bins if we don't win. 12:49:48
This post from the same author as the previous is far more emotional and obviously meant to illicit an emotional response from the reader. His use of the phrase “You will collect our dead bodies from garbage bins if we don't win”, shows an extreme dedication to his chosen cause and rhetoric designed to inspire others to strive towards his level of complete and utter commitment. Stating that they will have to collect the bodies from garbage cans would seem to be less of a call to arms and instead perhaps a way of convincing readers that he is not afraid of what will happen to him. The term “critical” implies a sense of urgency within the post. Overall this post can be interpreted as a call to arms or a threat to the government stating that they will have to kill the protestors if they do not get the result they desire.
Sandmonkey 1000 pro Mubarak demonstration is heading towards Tahrir. The military is withdrawing. This will get ugly quick #jan25 13:40:24
This author clearly states that he is Pro Mubarak and by telling us that the demonstration contains a thousand people he is attempting to inspire others to join in. Many people would be more fearful of joining a protest that is smaller for fear of direct retribution by the authorities and a lower chance of success. The author also says that “this will get ugly quick” in an effort to emphasize the determination of the protestors. In addition to those statements the author also informs the reader that the military is withdrawing, perhaps attempting to persuade the readers to join by giving them hope that the military cannot possibly hope to subdue this protest. Unlike previous posts this one does not state that the protest is peaceful but instead that it will be “ugly” implying possible violence and bloodshed on the part of the military and the protestors.
Sandmonkey Camels and Horses used by Pro Mubarak protesters to attack Anti-Mubarak protesters. This is becoming literally a circus. #jan25 15:04:27
Sandmonkey posts again in less than two hours. This post is not going to persuade many people to join the protest as it emphasizes the fact that the demonstration has turned into a battle between the two different sides of the protest, those for and those against Mubarak. The tone of the post implies that the author is almost enjoying the chaos of the battle going on. He goes so far as to make a joke about the use of horses and camels to attack fellow protestors.
norashalaby He couldn't beat us with his state security so he sends baltagiya [gangs of paid thugs] to terrorize us. Down w the dictator #Jan25 14:41:17
This post is written in such a way as to incite anger and resentment among the readers in an attempt to inspire action. He refers to Mubarak as a “dictator” painting a picture of him as a tyrant. By saying that the “dictator” sent gangs of thugs to attack the protestors he is degrading the position of Mubarak to that of an evil oppressor rather than a government official. His post is dehumanizing the subject in an attempt to illicit an emotional response from his readers and spur them on. His disdain is obvious and pronounced.
Gsquare86 Everyone in Cairo who wants Mubarak out and stands for justice come to Tahrir NOW! 16:15:28
This is the first post to use capitalization and an Exclamation point to emphasize the message of the author. He is calling for action without any subtlety. He is attempting to manipulate the readers by inferring that they do not believe in justice unless they come to Tahrir right now as the protest is going on. His use of manipulation could either work as a method of convincing people that they have to come for the sake of true justice or it could backfire and cause readers to stay put simply because he is attempting to manipulate them and they know it. Most people do not respond positively to blatant attempts at manipulation.
ashrafkhalil #jan25 I saw at least a dozen guys coming back badly bloodied from front line. Incredibly violent scene and the soldiers are just watching 16:43:07
beleidy I came to a peaceful protest, this is not one! 16:30:50
This is the first post in which the individual states outright that the violence was not what he had intended to accomplish by coming to the demonstration. While other authors posted about the injustice taking place within the government that is taking place, he is the first to state that the protests are operating unjustly. His expectations may have been different than most of the other protestors and this appears to be an attempt to remind others that the demonstrations were meant to be peaceful.
beleidy Another injured friend! 17:26:32
This post uses three words to announce the individual’s opinion and feelings regarding the subject while trying to persuade protesters to stop the violence. There are not extraneous words to distract the reader. The rhetoric is clear.
beleidy He Was trying to protect a little girl! Captured people are with weapons, knives, some police! 17:28:03
The same person that announced that his friend was injured went on to further emphasize the injustice he believes took place only two minutes later. The second sentence of his post is slightly unclear but the first is an attempt to explain why he sees his friend’s injury as such an injustice. Few people will fault a man for attempting to protect a child. The second sentence seems to be an opinion that the military is not doing its preordained job by not focusing their efforts on capturing those people that are injuring others within the protests. The use of exclamation marks after both sentences would suggest that he is very vehement about his opinion on this subject. This individual wants change to take place immediately
Obviously all of these posts were meant to illicit a specific emotional response from the reader. The authors wanted to inspire change, in one form or another, through the posting of these messages before and during the events of January 25th. As previously discussed it is not possible for words alone to inspire a social movement, but given the right political situation words can be a very powerful motivator. These posts used a variety of different methods while trying to inspire others to join the fray. Before the violence some emphasized that the protests were peaceful and that protestors were merely “camping out” in order to show their dedication to the cause and their determination to seek justice. As time went along we see a change in the tone of the posts. Authors attempt to manipulate readers into joining the movement by trying to make them believe that they were allowing injustice if they stayed away from the demonstration. Some of the authors are for Mubarak and others are against him but the attempts to motivate and inspire are similar. The authors are attempting to explain the entirety of their beliefs within less than 200 written characters. Some of the posts are fueled by pure emotion and the author put very little thought into the structure and wording of what he wanted to say, as in the case of the man whose friend was allegedly injured while protecting a child. Others put obvious thought into their postings and before the violence even added hashtags to their posts in an attempt to fuel comradery among twitter users in Egypt.
Social media has impacted the lives of every person on earth directly or indirectly over the past decade. It allows us to broadcast our thoughts and feelings to large amounts of people with the click of a button. In order for a revolution to occur communication among like-minded people must be permitted to take place, twitter and other social media platforms facilitate that communication of ideas. Political threat and opportunity combined with mobilizing resources will not often lead to a revolution because not enough people can communicate their views on the subject to gather others to the cause and organize actions. Social media facilitates insurgent consciousness, the final theory used to explain why social movements occur in previously acquiescent communities and nations. Today a revolt can be fueled by the exchange of a few hundred written characters among thousands of people. During the Arab Spring that is exactly what took place, and we may see more revolutions in the future fueled by the use of social media communication.