Impact of social media upon politics has facilitated propagation of free speech in society. Owing to this influence, several nations have witnessed closure of tyrannical dictatorship. The Arab Spring is one such example that exhibits the influence of social media in instigating mass protests. Widely tagged as the Facebook or Twitter revolution, scholars have analyzed over 3 million tweets, YouTube videos and more than thousands of blog posts, and revealed that the social media played a pivotal role in the Arab Spring. The week before Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned, daily tweets surmounted from 2,300 a day to 230,000 tweets per day. Videos on protests and demonstrations went viral on the internet with top videos receiving more than 5.5 million views. Youth friendly site Facebook enabled rapid communication across the country, and conversation was made possible 24/7. It saw dramatic rise in political blogs and comments from the citizens irrespective of age, class, gender (Donnell).
Print and broadcast media have been often heavily censored in the Middle-East. Hence, the emergence of digital media helped the citizens in free discussion of political issues without any state interference. Tunisian citizens utilized the web as a tool in organizing and communicating messages of revolution and democracy. They congregated to create You Tube videos documenting Tunisian president’s wife using the state plane for luxury purposes. It featured how she visited Milan and Paris on a shopping spree. The web is a podium where the state has been challenged by civil societies (Howard). The subsequent downfall of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was the beginning of pro-democratic protests in the Middle-East, driven by social media.
HISTORY AND BACKGROUND OF THE ARAB SPRING
News sources identify Arab Spring as the upsurge of pro-democratic groups in the Middle-East that brought about mass protests and finally, the end of dictatorship. With ouster of the Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali (after 23 years); nationwide discontent at political instability, hard economy and autocracy gave birth to Arab Spring. Activists seeking democracy in Tunisia held mass demonstrations in December 2010. Such demonstrations gradually moved beyond the Tunisian border and gave rise to pro-democratic sentiments across the Middle-East. Egypt’s former President Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign in 2011, after 29 years in power. Mubarak was succeeded by Mohammed Morsi in 2012. But, he couldn’t last long owing to protests against his pro-Islamist “draft constitution”. Equal hostility prevailed in Libya in 2011 owing to anti-government sentiments to topple oppressive ruler, the late Muammar Gaddafi (BBC). Similar protests took place in other countries across the Middle-East; changes came slowly in other nations.
Key figures. Protests were encouraged and organized by groups and activists seeking democracy. Similar hostility and anti-government feeling was at the heart of the citizens that struggled economically and socially, under authoritarianism.
Summary of events. The protestors took to the streets and one Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia set himself on fire after police stopped him from selling vegetables. While this was just the beginning, subsequent unrest in the Middle-East witnessed thousands being killed in political clashes. Despite government intervention, the protestors finally got what they targeted. Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia went for its first democratic election after the downfall of authoritarian regime.
Impact of new media on these social movements. The internet has vastly transformed how communication, politics and social life thrive in the world. With profound impact of social media, the citizens have overthrown governments. The new media is persistently used in organizing protests; communicate information, pictures, videos, blogs and posts. Gradual tie-up of social networks with mainstream media gave rise to new dimension of social communication. Men with camera attached to helmets that are linked to a computer to stream live videos and blogs, immensely impacted perception of the world audience. Every minute detail about the nature of the protest, political corruption, mishandling of such crisis by police officials, sufferings of the public under oppressive rulers are shown live. Social media have slowly catapulted into the main source of information for global citizens (Mason).
Digital media and globalization paved the way for glocalization. The need for reform sparked across several nations. Injustice, scams and torture are now shown live with users and activists taking to the internet to vent out their frustrations and look for possible solution. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, You Tube united the global public regardless of race, class, gender. Biased political angle in news stories finally came to an end with digitization of communication.
While there are several other social movements facilitated by digital media; the latest example is the Hong Kong protest, in which the citizens are voicing against China’s interference in Hong Kong’s electoral process. This movement is way different from 2003 Hong Kong demonstrations. Now, Hong Kong is no more separated from rest of the world. Its attempt to bring about reforms in election is supported and sympathized by the global population. Audiences are witnessing the protests in real time and China is apparently threatened by social media. China is vehemently censoring contents on Weibo (Chinese version of Twitter). Access to Instagram has been blocked, which already has censorship imposed on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Posts, blogs, pictures and videos have dismantled the base of Chinese political system, and one-sided authoritarian rule is highly criticized (Parker). Digital boom instigated greater “behavioral interactivity” and users are given control over the situation. This has shifted the balance of power and the users have greatly benefitted from this (Van Dijk 9).
After a thorough research on the influence of new media upon social movements, it can be concluded that, internet has overhauled the arena of political and social communication. Globalization has created a close mesh of networked society where social media domination is paving the way for greater democracy. Authoritarian regime is becoming difficult to sustain and the public are demanding more accountability from the officials in power. It is now easier to trace political scams. Though the public often voiced their opinion in the past and urged for transparency, but state-controlled media houses were puppets in the hands of ministers. Now, the social media has bonded people across the globe that share similar dissent and hostility towards any political injustice. Though critics have often pointed out that unhindered freedom might prove disastrous for state politics in the long run, but politicians have always exploited resources, public funds and faith. Now, if the citizens have a platform to voice their opinion and practice democracy in true sense, it can put an end to several political crisis and dilemmas.
BBC. Arab Uprising Country-by-Country. 16 Dec. 2013. Web. 26 Oct. 2014.
Donnell, Catherine. “New study quantifies use of social media in Arab Spring.” University of
Washington. 12 Sept. 2011. Web. 25 Oct. 2014.
Howard, Phillip. “The Lasting Impact of Digital Media on Civil Society.” IIP Digital. 25 Jan.
2014. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Mason, Paul. “From Arab Spring to global revolution.” The Guardian. 5 Feb. 2013. Web. 26
Parker, Emily. “Social media and the Hong Kong protests.” The New Yorker. 1 Oct. 2014. Web.
25 Oct. 2014.
Van Dijk, Jan. The Network Society. London: Sage, 2006. Print.