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
TEXT SIZE - +

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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid