Cram SessionMiddle East

Social Media Revolutions

This post is part of Cram Session, an ongoing weekly series from the Whitehead Journal of International Relations and Diplomacy. Each week a member of the Whitehead Journal will discuss the history and future of a wide variety of topics pertaining to International Relations

Revolution is rocking the modern Middle East and North Africa and social media is being wielded as a political tool for the masses.  Protesters are forex which is known as forex currency trading through forex brokers as explained in this forex trading website information, videos, and pictures in order to fully organize the public behind their message.  The role of social media in transforming citizens’ relationships with their leaders has become somewhat of a political phenomenon.  Despite efforts to block the use of the internet and cell phones, dedicated revolutionaries are spreading the word and gaining ground.

Background:  Media and Political Change

Throughout history the utility of planned protests has proved to be an efficient catalyst for political change. The force of organized and impassioned citizens cannot be denied.  Even our own American Revolution began as a dissident idea which spread rapidly through word of mouth and print media.  Of course, throughout modern history organization was a much more daunting process.  The slow creep of information made political protests much more difficult to organize and carry out.  However, we have entered a new age where organization is completely mainstreamed.

Social media including sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have revolutionized the manner in which information can be disseminated and acted upon.  Lev Grossman of Time Magazine explains why Twitter and similar mediums are particularly useful for mass protests.  They are often free, are extremely mobile, and can transfer information very quickly.  Data may be transferred not only through the internet but also through cell phone usage.  The duality of its use makes social media sites accessible to all sectors of society, and also makes it very difficult for government authorities to control.

The power of social media in political affairs was first truly realized during Iran’s latest presidential elections in 2009.  Although social media is not responsible for the protests that erupted in support of opposition candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, it certainly offered a forum for frustration to vented and organization to take place.  More recently we have seen social media aid in protests against the governments of Tunisia and Egypt.  In Egypt, social media is not only being used to form staging grounds for protests, but also to provide journalists with leads on new developments in dangerous areas and to offer advice for those involved in clashes on the streets, such as how to rinse tear gas from one’s eyes.

The Tool of Revolution?

With the seemingly clear effectiveness of social media as a political driver for change in Egypt and Tunisia, many unstable States may be wondering if they’re government is next.  Several States in the Middle East experiencing a time of great political uncertainty, such as Lebanon and Yemen, may be the next social media battle grounds.  From a political rights perspective it appears that the age of governments determining the political and social identity of their citizens has passed. Repressive governments may be finding that they are not the only legitimate source of information, and that their citizens’ voices cannot be entirely hidden through fear.

The use of social media in driving political protests and uprisings presents many new challenges to governments. The freedoms of speech and assembly are widely recognized as basic civil rights characteristic of democratic governments.  Of course some governments may not be concerned with attending to the pro-democratic line, but for those who are, deciding to limit such freedoms is a politically risky action to take.  Externally, social media allows individuals from all over the world, including the leaders of other States, to gain an understanding of what is taking place during the period of unrest.  Whether or not the information being transmitted through social media alone is actually representative of a given situation will always be in question; context may be distorted or completely absent in many circumstances, creating uncertainty.  Social media may be giving new meaning to the phrase “The whole world is watching.”

Grossman warns, however, that Twitter and other social media sites are not “a magic bullet against dictators.”  Despite the difficulty in controlling the dissemination of information over the internet and cell phones, many governments are still able to eventually shut down their use.  However, the damage may already be done by the time such outlets are closed.  In even the most repressive of governments, citizens may have finally found a medium which transcends central control, even if just for a brief period of time.  Still, caution should be taken in viewing social media as the harbinger of peaceful and democratic change.  The outcome may not always be what was intended.  Whatever the ultimate outcome of social media’s use as a catalyst for political change, it appears that its transformative presence is likely to continue.

More Analysis

Although it appears that social media is aiding in the quick overthrow of unpopular governments, its affects may actually be felt longer-term in the months and years following protest (Clay Shirky, Foreign Affaris)

For a debate on whether social media really plays a role in acute political change see a response by Malcolm Gladwell to Clay Shirky’s article in Foreign Affairs.

Photo:  Flickr