News / Middle East

Social Media Playing a Role in Arab World Protests

TEXT SIZE - +
William Ide

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

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites 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.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid