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

Westgate Mall Attack Survivors Confront Painful Memories

On anniversary of terror attack, survivors discuss how they have coped with trauma they experienced that day More

Iraqi Kurd President Urges World Community to Protect Syrian City

Islamic State fighters are besieging Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, after seizing at least 21 surrounding villages in a major assault against city on Syria's northern border with Turkey More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 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.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid