Table of Contents
In the recent past, every country on the continent has faced changes in its own way. In this respect, the Arab Spring was a kind of defiance to the generalization approach to life. Despite the need for change, the one common ideology among most communities and countries is the desire for dignity, which acts as a unifying factor. The same approach applies to the Arab world, where the people would have access to proper employment, being sure of the promising future for the future generations and most significantly, providing an environment with the capacity to fulfill peoples’ potential. The Arab Spring was a result of the act of one frustrated Tunisian young graduate, who set himself on fire. The act was a display of underlying frustrations of many people in the Arab region in the need for change. In the case of Tunisia, the single act led to violent demonstrations and riots throughout the country. Some of the underlying issues, which sparked the Arab Spring, include corruption, high levels of unemployment, food inflation, and lack of a number of political freedoms. The Arab Spring led to the downfall of the then powerful regimes as people demanded for a change in leadership. Apart from Tunisia, other Arab countries, which experienced the uprising, include Egypt, Yemen, and Libya. During the uprising, many people lost their lives, homes and other valuables. The wave of protests emboldened by North African success was driven by similar demographic realities, failures of the state policies and demands for greater representation. According to reports, the uprising may have failed in realizing immediate regime change. Though the Arab Spring was a historic juncture in the politics of the Middle East, its long-term effects remain impulsive.
One notable aspect of the Arab Spring is the driving force of the uprising. Various tools were instrumental in the unfolding of the events in the Arab region. The communication aspect was of much importance for sharing information with other neighboring countries, which resulted in further demonstrations and riots. During the period, one notable instrument was social media. This paper seeks to explore the impact of social media on the loss of lives and destructions during the Arab Spring.
The Arab Spring
In December 2010, Tunisia witnessed a life-changing event, which led to protests all over the Arab region. The Arab Spring represented a revolutionary event that involved violent riots and protests. The Arab Spring started to fade in the mid-2012. Some of the countries affected include Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and Bahraini. The protests also spread to Morocco, Kuwait, Iraq, Algeria, and Sudan. One of the notable impacts of the Arab Spring is the loss of lives of the people who took part in the protests. In Tunisia, the death toll figures equal to over 300 people, all of whom were killed during the protests by either the police or their fellow protestors. Egypt had greater death numbers standing for over 4000 people killed, Syria had over 300,000 people murdered, and Libya had over 40,000 people killed during the uprising. Approximately, the entire Arab Spring led to the deaths of over 400, 000 people in the Arab region. Different analysts relate the killings to the social media networks, which were instrumental during the uprising. Social media networks were instrumental at the time and played a key role in the deaths and destruction of property.
Social Media Defined
The revolutions in Arab region fostered a budding debate on the role of social media and networking as an instrument for the political organization towards administration change and pro-democracy movements. Various scholars, activists, and journalists have embraced social media as an undeniable force used for the sake of good. Some claim that democracy is just a tweet away. In this light, the internet is an effective weapon of the weak and marginalized people against their dictatorial leadership. On the other hand, it is apparent that the internet and social media led to the loss of lives and destructions during the Arab Spring. It is evident that the internet and its tools of social media were instrumental in facilitating the uprisings in the Arab region. The early 2011 Arab Spring activities relied majorly on the internet and its resources. Activists and protesters in the region used social media networks like Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, and weblogs to organize and create awareness of the political organization. The internet possesses an enormous potential to facilitate and speed up the political uprisings and represents a fundamentally dialectical force, which should not be treated exclusively as an emancipator or oppressor.
In the case of Libya, the unfolding events were recorded on personal video cameras and cell phones. The information was later made available to internet users all over the globe through postings on YouTube. Ideally, the Arab Spring was marked by citizen journalism due to which people in the different countries were responsible for sharing various kinds of information concerning the uprising. One major issue on the role of social media is being the source of information communicated by citizens. In this section, the paper will investigate different internet and social media tools applicable during the Arab Spring. These include Twitter, videos on YouTube, Facebook, mainstream media, and online blogs.
According to the 2011 Arab Spring reports, over 90% of Tunisia citizens obtain their news from social media resources. On the other hand, over 80% of Egyptians access social media to search for information. Notably, Tunisia and Egypt did not rely on state-sponsored media for receiving information during the period. Following the revolutions, current statistics indicates that a good number of Egyptians are now Facebook users and this number exceeds those reading newspapers. Prior to the uprisings, social media was majorly a platform for socializing. However, currently the social media networks are now tools of information sharing being relevant in the modern political organization. Despite the positive aspect of this issue, social media was responsible for the massive loss of lives and destructions during the uprising.
Different scholars define information communication technolog as a converging set of technologies in microelectronics, computing, optoelectronics, and telecommunications/broadcasting. Social media networks are a subset of information communication technology including the online tools and utilities, which permit sharing of information online. Social media also allows people to take part and collaborate on the various kinds of information presented. Scholars agree that social media tools are websites, which intermingle with the users and at the same time provide them with information. According to the definitions provided, social media networks are a two-way process, which forms the basis of the main aim of the current paper. In order to fully understand the role and impact of social media during the Arab Spring, the section of this paper will define the four most widely and effectively used social media networks. These include Facebook, blogging, Twitter, and YouTube.
Facebook started as a social networking website and currently serves approximately 800 million active users. With the help of this platform, Facebook users interact with other users through the status update, posting on their friends’ pages, or sending direct personal and public messages. The website also allows users to create and join interest groups, import and search for contacts and upload videos and photos. Ideally, an average user of the site can access over 75 community pages, events, and groups. One instrumental factor is that over half of Facebook users can access their accounts using their cell phones. This aspect was instrumental during the Arab Spring. According to reports, Egypt alone has over 6 million Facebook users, which makes it the country with highest rate of Facebook users in the region. The Arab Spring saw more Egyptians join Facebook with the majority of users being between the ages of 18 and 25 years. Twitter, on the other hand, is a real-time information instrument, which updates users on the latest information concerning their interests. On this forum, communication is carried out through tweets and short posts of 140 characters allowing adding media links. Through Twitter, one can communicate further through hashtags that were popular during the uprising in the Arab region. Initially, YouTube was dedicated solely to uploading and sharing personal videos. Through YouTube uploads, internet users can view over 3 billion videos a day. Modern upgrades allow viewers to leave comments on the uploaded videos. Reports indicate that YouTube is the third most frequently used website. Finally, weblogs refer to an easy-to-use content management tool. The web bloggers constantly add information to their sites, which are easily accessible through internet.
Social Media and the Arab Spring
According to various aftermath reports, social media was instrumental in giving rise to the Arab revolutions that started in 2011. Technological tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Skype, internet, MMS, and SMS helped facilitate the protests. The organization of demonstrations and protests was carried out through social networks and media. The social media tools allowed protestors to spread their revolutionary messages at a high speed. At the same time, these social media instruments allowed direct reporting, intelligence sharing, and coordination on behalf of the protestors. On the other hand, social media was responsible for the loss of lives and destruction witnessed during the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring, despite its desire for political change and the need for new and modern leadership, led to the destruction of property and loss of lives. Social media offered a platform by using which activists and protestors could organize common meetings, demonstrations, and protests. These activities organized through social media led to the loss of lives and destruction of property in the Arab regions.
Researchers agree that social media was a powerful force in the organization of protests but failed to stop the killings and destructions when they got out of control. Most importantly, social media failed to help create stable governments especially after the revolutions. Instead, the protests and demonstrations continued leading to loss of lives and destruction of property. Evidently, social media played the role of polarizing the nations after the downfall of the regimes. This was mostly evident in Tunisia and Egypt, where people relied on social media for direction and leadership, which was not provided. Even though supporters of social media assumed that a new public sphere based on mutual respect and dialogue will be created, the reality is that people while throwing the occasional bombs on social media always retreated to their respective camps. Social media created unmatched opportunities for the sharing of information freestanding the control of the prevailing and supervised conventional media of the Arab regimes. Information on the internet, which was not accessible by means of the mainstream media but was derived from some other sources, propagated protests and demonstrations in the Arab regions. Social media provided information on the need for change but failed to provide proper ways of changing ideology on the whole. One way or another, the region was bound to rebel the dominant conservative regimes. However, social media facilitated demonstrations against the regimes without providing people with efficient ways of organizing protests. In the end, civilians were killed during the protests and property was destroyed. Information was available on social media for people to be ready to engage in protests and demonstrations without prior planning on how to stay safe.
As of 2011, it was evident that every citizen of the Arab countries was tired of the existing administration and wanted to change leadership. The social media, however, was implicated in ways far beyond merely cutting down the communication costs, or transcending the barriers concerning traditional media. As different scholars would note, the large, decentralized and often undermined social media networks facilitated by the new communication technologies operated as a form of a political game, which was based on the participation and direct engagement of all citizens. At the time of the protests, there was the need for the hierarchical model of institutionalized bureaucratic authoritariian politics.
It is apparent that the 2011 Arab Spring was characterized by leaderless social media communication. In this respect, the Arabs received information from the social media networks, and acted on it without understanding the consequences of their actions. For instance, it is possible that other people would have taken advantage of the situation and communicated untruthful information. Social media may have taken a form of propaganda. In this case, the media stands counter to real-time events. It implies that propaganda may or may not be true. Social media uses information as a weapon in the form of propaganda. The protestors may have employed Facebook, Twitter, and other social media networks to carry out their activities. However, it is evident that other people may have communicated untruthful information, hence interpreted it differently. Through the information presented on the different social sites, people turned to the street fighting and destroying property. The uprising fights and destruction of property emerged from the online information provided to the crowds. There was no proper organization of the information provided to the world community. There may have been the need for change, but it was not necessary for the Arab region to organize fights that led to the loss of lives. Social media cannot replace the physical actions needed for proper conduct of revolutions. Apart from the spread of information, social media played a limited role of helping form new political parties.
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Most analysts relate the success of the Arab Spring to social media but forget to analyze the negative impacts. Social media has its limitations in the first phases of revolutions and social movements. Social media creates weak ties, which allow individuals to share information without the strong ties in terms of personal relationships. Ideally, the social media activities during the Arab Spring developed weak ties, which did not lead to high-risk activism. People took part in the protests and demonstration because of the wide-scale movement and lacked personal connection to the issues raised. The loss of lives and destruction of property during the Arab Spring was a clear indication that the protestors lacked personal connection to the movement. The ideologies communicated through social media lacked a personal touch. Reports indicated high numbers of social media subscribers during the Arab Spring. For instance, Facebook activism flourishes not because people are motivated to make a real sacrifice but because they are prompted to do the things which they do even when they are unmotivated enough to make a real sacrifice. Based on the argument, it is evident that the riskier a revolution becomes, the less useful social media is. Social media lacks personal touch in their activism. Accordingly, during the Arab Spring, there was no personal touch in the protests related information communicated by the protestors. For this reason, people ended up engaging in dangerous activities and demonstrations, which resulted in life losses and destruction of property in the Arab region. It is important that people assume personal risks, which in most cases call for personal investment. Social media fails to offer grounds for personal investment, which leads to unfruitful activities. During the Arab Spring, there was no need for loss of lives and destruction of property because they all had a common goal. People were in need for the change of the existing administrations hence this situation led to the protests. In this regard, social media should have provided a platform where people would organize protests without exposing violence. However, social media forums lacked traditional relationships, which would be the most efficient mechanism through which people could realize their ties. Development of these strong ties helps eliminate negative impacts such as killings and destruction of property. On the other hand, a personal investment in different movements such as the one witnessed during the Arab Spring helps avoid mass killings and negative outcomes of social movements.
In this regard, social media has its limitations. It is notable that there is a gap in the level of participation of social media users. The number of people using different social media tools does not translate into the actual figures estimated during protests and movements. The high numbers of subscribers of Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and other social media tools do not mean they all were revolutionaries. There exist gaps between high-risk activism, weak ties and the level of participation in such social movement as the Arab Spring. These are a weakness to social media applications in support of a revolution. Social media during insurrection is the dynamic of the internal heading of a revolution, insurgency, or social movement and leadership. In most social movements, the early stages of most insurgencies involve as great an internal struggle as an external one. Although the involvement of multiple users at the individual level can be considered an advantage of the social media, it also raises the problem of leadership. The lack of leadership in social media led to the loss of lives during the Arab Spring. When one is faced with thousands of people interacting by means of social media, the arising challenge is the question of who takes leadership of communicating required information. People ended up killing each other and destroying property because of lack of leadership on the information provided regarding the protests. In such cases, the users are likely to be the natural leaders in the given society or the rebellious elite. Therefore, there are high chances for the natural leaders to communicate untruthful information, which can polarize the society. Leaderless movements to some extent lead to mass movements instead of reaching the intended purposes. Another adverse effect of the leaderless organization is the loss of lives and destruction of property. People emit their anger and frustration on the wrong people and damage others’ property. In addition, the mass movements lose their initial direction in terms of the development of the movement. The Arab Spring ended up limiting gains of revolutionary activities and offering regimes with more response options and potentially less disastrous consequences.
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