News / Middle East

Social Media a Critical Tool for Middle East Protesters

Mona Eltahawy, Egyptian Journalist/Blogger, right, and Carl Gershman, President, National Endowment for Democracy
Mona Eltahawy, Egyptian Journalist/Blogger, right, and Carl Gershman, President, National Endowment for Democracy
Alex Villarreal

Social networking websites have played a critical role in the anti-government protests sweeping the Middle East and North Africa. But media experts say the people, not the technology, are driving the demonstrations.

Organizers of the protests in Tunisia and Egypt used Facebook and Twitter to mobilize supporters.

In Egypt, the Facebook page "We Are All Khaled Said" quickly amassed thousands of fans and is now up to nearly 1 million followers. The page, honoring a young Egyptian businessman allegedly beaten to death by police last year, was instrumental in organizing Egypt's uprising.

Protesters' online efforts have shown the power of social media as a tool for political change. But Egyptian journalist and blogger Mona Eltahawy says those calling the Middle East movements Facebook or Twitter revolutions are not giving the credit where it is due.

"Facebook and Twitter did not invent courage. And I think we owe it to these incredibly courageous people. I mean look how many people are being slaughtered in Libya, to recognize that this courage has been there for decades, whether people outside of those countries saw it or not. Facebook allowed you to see it. Facebook allowed them to connect. But at the end of the day, it's their courage to go out on the street and topple those regimes that must be saluted, before we salute anybody else," she said.

Eltahawy shared her views Tuesday at a panel discussion in Washington hosted by the Center for International Media Assistance and the National Endowment for Democracy.

Abderrahim Foukara, chief of television network Al Jazeera's Washington bureau, also spoke at the event. He said social media were incredibly important in publicizing the protests. But he said he doubts the websites could have spread that spirit of democracy alone, adding that other media also played an important role.

"There were a lot of young people using Tweets and Facebook, and they still are, to convey a sense, in the case of Libya, of the atrocities being committed against civilians.  But in the case of Egypt for example, you needed a television medium, whereby Egyptians can have a conversation with each other in real time in a way that put what was going on in Egypt in context, not just for people in Egypt but also for other people around the region," he said.

Social networking websites also can be fragile. U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff said Facebook and Twitter have become "vital platforms" for mobilizing dissidents, but he pointed out that the tools are not immune to government influence.

"In Egypt, the government successfully shut down the Internet for five days during peak demonstrations, cutting off protesters' access to online resources. Similarly, in Libya, Tunisia and Bahrain, governments have worked to censor online content and slow down Internet connections. And in Iran, authorities have used Facebook user accounts to shadow and capture members of the opposition. These protests make it clear that digital media can be used to accelerate political and social change, but they also highlight the ability of authoritarian regimes to use the same tools to stifle it," he said.

U.S. officials have spoken out strongly against governments' efforts to block Internet services. Schiff said the U.S. government also is discussing how it can use social networking technologies to support democratic growth.

Michael Nelson, who teaches Internet studies at Georgetown University, says those seeking change have not let online crackdowns stop them. He said Internet users in the Middle East and elsewhere have found ways around the restrictions - using proxy servers, online gaming worlds and even dating sites to keep up communication.

"In many of these countries, the most technologically sophisticated 10 percent of Internet users will find a way to get what they want. The other 90 percent are often held back, they are often blocked. But as long as there's that 10 percent and they have relatives and they know other people, you can spread the word," he said.

Even after the revolutions, the panelists say social media will continue to play an important role, with citizens using the tools to discuss what kinds of countries they now want to build.

You May Like

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level 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.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid