News / Middle East

Facebook Becomes Divisive in Bahrain

A Bahrain woman looks at pictures of victims of the February 14 uprising, displayed at an exhibition during a gathering held by the Al Fateh Youth Union in Isa Town, south of Manama, Bahrain, July 28, 2011
A Bahrain woman looks at pictures of victims of the February 14 uprising, displayed at an exhibition during a gathering held by the Al Fateh Youth Union in Isa Town, south of Manama, Bahrain, July 28, 2011

It has been six months since anti-government protests inspired by the successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt first erupted in Bahrain. And as in Egypt, many Bahrainis used social media Internet sites such as Facebook to help organize the protests. The Bahraini government is now using Facebook, too - apparently to track down and arrest the protesters.

It is questionable whether the Arab Spring ever would have amounted to much without social media on the Internet. In most cases, as more and more frustrated youths turned to their computers to express their discontent, an increasing number of people left their homes to publicly demand change.

The term “Facebook Revolution” was coined after the successful ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. And in Bahrain, the social networking site also played a role in encouraging people to participate in the nation’s “Day of Rage” protests on February 14, and in the pro-democracy demonstrations that followed.

Manama’s Pearl Roundabout traffic circle quickly became Bahrain’s own version of Cairo's Tahrir Square, where protesters, made up of mostly Shi’ite Muslims, set up camp and pushed for reform.

Unlike in Egypt, however, the demands of the Bahrainis were never met. The Sunni government, with military help from neighboring Gulf States, quelled the uprising and afterwards, reportedly used access to social media to help identify and punish those who spoke out.

Rights groups say that more than 1,000 opposition supporters have been arrested since the crackdown began. Today, many Bahrainis say they are apprehensive about using social media.

A recent documentary aired on the al-Jazeera television network describes how one Facebook page helped single out a 20-year-old Shi’ite woman who allegedly was arrested and tortured. Visitors to the page were told to reveal her name and workplace on it "and let the government take care of the rest."

Another page displayed photos of other demonstrators that would be checked off once a person was detained by authorities.

According to Abdulnabi Alekry, chairman of the Bahrain Transparency Society, the government's use of social media to help identify opponents has pushed the country’s Sunnis and Shi’ites further and further apart.

"It is causing a lot of damage to the national unity and it is causing even suspicion between people who work together or live together or are in the same society or club. It is a source of concern," said Alekry.

Shi’ites are said to account for about 70 percent of Bahrain’s population and say they are treated like second-class citizens by the ruling Sunni minority. They have been demanding more equality, a more representative government and a new constitution.

But many agree that the situation is worse now than before the protests began.

One Bahraini who wished to have her identity kept secret and asked to go by the initials S.B., said the problems of some people have been made worse by using social media.

"I’m working with students who got expelled - over 100 in different institutes, who were all expelled and had their scholarships pulled for Facebook updates and Blackberry [smartphone] messages. Most of these Facebook statuses were screenshots taken from their friends and handed in to the investigative committees," she said.

S.B. also said many people now living in Bahrain are finding it difficult to trust anyone.

"Most Shi’ites I know have removed all Sunnis [from their social media accounts] and vice versa. I have myself… there is no explaining the feeling when someone who you consider your best friend joins a Facebook page like “together to unmask the Shi’ite traitors.” It’s like the world you had before, all of this has ended and it was all a lie anyway," she said.

Bahrain is not the only nation said to be using social media to track down dissidents. Syrian security forces also have been accused of using sites like Facebook and Twitter to identify activists and find out with whom they have been corresponding.

Carrington Malin, managing director of Dubai-based Spot On Public Relations, said it is a trend that is likely to continue.

"Certainly at the beginning of the Arab Spring many governments in the region were quite dismissive of social media and the online conversations, and today there is a lot more focus on monitoring public sentiment online, and in some cases, even monitoring individuals who authorities believe are associated with political activity," said Malin.

But despite the risk of surveillance, Nancy Messieh, Middle East editor at The Next Web, said most anti-regime activists in the region will continue to use social media as a vital tool in their fight for freedom.

"Even if you look at the extent that people will go to, away from [outside of] social media, like what we are seeing in Syria at the moment, they know the consequences, they know what they’re getting themselves into and they’re still willing to do it, and I think even with social media it is exactly the same thing. If this is a tool that they can use, they’re going to use it, despite the risks," said Messieh.

And so, apparently, will the government of Bahrain.

You May Like

Report: $60 Billion Leaves Africa Illegally Each Year

Report by a joint UN and African Union panel says African countries need to take concrete measures to stop billions of dollars from illegally being moved out of continent each year More

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Some analysts say Russian Tu-95 bombers were flying near British airspace to warn Britain about an inquest into a murdered Russian spy More

Mugabe Defends Image Amid Controversy at Close of AU Summit

He rejects concerns about how the West might perceive his leadership, saying he's focused on African development More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relationsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
January 31, 2015 10:50 PM
Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Neighborhood Divided Over Conflict

People in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk districts find themselves squarely in the path of advancing Russian-backed rebels, who want to take back the territory they held at the beginning of the conflict last year. Many local residents are afraid, but others would welcome the change, even when a rebel shell lands in their neighborhood. From the Luhansk district, 15 kilometers from where the Ukrainian government marks the front line, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid