News / Middle East

Social Media Playing a Role in Arab World Protests

From the recent uprising in Tunisia to this week's street protests in Egypt, social media has been playing a role in helping protesters organize and draw international attention.  But whether we are seeing the ripple effect of what some analysts are calling a Facebook or Twitter revolution rolling through the Arab world is a matter of debate.  

A posting Tuesday on the video-sharing Web site YouTube, shot from the balcony of a high-rise apartment in Cairo, shows scores of Egyptian protesters rallying in the streets and fleeing authorities.

At one point in the video, a man stands in front of a water cannon daring it to move as a high-pressured stream is sprayed over his head.

The dramatic posting is but one example of how social media networks are being used to document and detail the real life struggle that is being played out online and spreading across the region.

The protests, which have spread from Tunisia to Yemen, Algeria and Egypt are attracting the attention of the U.S. government.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke Wednesday, urging authorities in Egypt to allow  for peaceful expression and to not block social media sites.  Egypt has blocked Twitter and Facebook in the wake of the protests.

Omid Memarian is an Iranian journalist and blogger:

"I think it is becoming more and more difficult for the authoritarian regimes in the Middle East to dominate their narrative of events," said Memarian. "They cannot be any more the only source of news and legitimacy."

Plans for the protests in Egypt, which began Tuesday and saw record numbers pour out into the streets, calling on President Hosni Mubarak to step down, were widely broadcast on the social networking site Facebook.

Activist organizers told ralliers where to meet and they were largely successful, despite a massive police presence.

Jillian York of Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society says that although social media was not used as widely for protest organizing in Tunisia, it played a bigger role in Egypt.

"For the past few days, I have been watching people on Twitter plan to use the hashtag #Jan25 for January 25th," said York. "And I have also seen things such as Google Docs  literally laying out plans for protests.  And so in this case, I have seen a lot more public organization on the Internet."

In Tunisia, a country where there has long been heavy censorship of the Internet, York says social media played a different role.

"[In Tunisia] It was a bit less clear as to whether or not social media was being used to physically organize protests," she said. "As far as my Tunisian contacts told me, the majority of organizing happened on the ground, offline and that social media was more of a tool to get information out of the country."

Tunisia's previous administration heavily censored the Internet, blocking opposition and dissident Web sites.  In a report this week in the The Atlantic  magazine,  documents how authorities in Tunisia hacked into Internet users accounts prior to the recent uprising and used a malicious code to record their information when they went to sites like Facebook.

That information was then used to shut down accounts.

Omid Memarian says that although social media has played a role in the recent protests in Tunisia and Egypt, those who are out in the streets are not necessarily there because of the Internet.

"There are many dynamics in place in these countries that contribute to the current turmoils and unrest," he said. "And mainly we have decades of repression in these countries."

Memarian says that the key engine of the protests has not been access to social media sites, but inequality, poverty and political desperation.   

You May Like

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

This forum has been closed.
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.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs