News / Middle East

Social Media - a New Battleground for Activists and Governments Alike

A student-run Facebook page shows an image depicting the Tunisian national flag smeared in red on a computer screen, 11 Jan 2011
A student-run Facebook page shows an image depicting the Tunisian national flag smeared in red on a computer screen, 11 Jan 2011

Protesters in Libya are refusing to give up their calls for an end to Moammar Gadhafi’s 42-year rule, fighting deadly street battles against forces aligned with the Libyan leader. Their struggle is the latest in a series of anti-government protests that have swept through North Africa and the Middle East in what some have come to call the “Facebook Revolution.”

But some experts say there are limits to how much the recent unrest can be attributed to social media platforms. While online frustration propelled offline action in Tunisia and Egypt, Stanford University Professor Evgeny Morozov says that was not the case in Libya, where Gadhafi’s government has blocked Facebook and the messaging site Twitter. Still, Libyans took to the streets.

“As we have seen, people have been very brave and very courageous to go into the streets and continue their struggle even though they couldn’t do it online. In Libya, the protests have their own momentum, and they’re pretty much operating because of solidarity with Tunisia and Egypt,” he says. “The Internet was more or less irrelevant to the struggle. It certainly helped to get more information out of Libya, but I don’t think it was actually playing a crucial role.”

Egypt's Tipping Point

It was a different story in Egypt, where Facebook served as a forum on which anti-government protesters congregated and organized, with separate pages reaching followers in the hundreds of thousands.

Najeb Ayachi, president of the Washington-based research group the Magreb Center, says Facebook took disparate groups of protesters in Egypt and united them around a common goal.

"Communities have been forged through Facebook, virtual communities. People met and talked, and exchanged ideas, and complaints, and demands, as well as information," he says. “They got to know each other, sometimes even on a personal level. Thus they started constituting, creating communities."

Accelerating Change

Anti-government sentiment has festered for decades in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. But Morozov says social media sites, and their ability to instantly and publicly share information, photos and videos, have transformed the political process.

"Some of these events happen much faster than they may have happened otherwise. The cycles are getting shorter, some of these protests are far more visible than they would be without those tools,” says Morozov.

The power and visibility of the online tools is also appealing to authoritarian governments. Gadhafi in Libya has appealed to his supporters to post video of pro-government rallies on the Internet. Bahrain’s foreign minister has his own Twitter account. And Sudanese police have spread false information about protests through social media and mobile phone text messages.

Mixed Messages

Journalism professor Jay Rosen of New York University says finding reliable sources of information online is a huge problem. And it is only growing as more dictators embrace social media.

"Confusing the situation using disinformation, fooling people, creating false accounts, creating false information, that’s child’s play. That’s easy," says Rosen. "The real challenge of social media is to somehow rescue trust and reliability from a chaotic and really extremely messy environment that cannot be easily controlled. It can be shut off. But it cannot be easily controlled."

With the growth of the Internet in the developing world, social media are playing more of a role in political movements. Whether or not revolutionaries and governments embrace the online tools, one thing is clear: many of their admirers and detractors will.

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid