When Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey founded Facebook and Twitter, they probably didn’t know the incredible response their sites would receive around the world, and how important their social media sites are for activism, protests, and movements in many parts of the world. Because we are living in a more flattened world, people almost everywhere have access to Facebook and Twitter accounts, and about 80% of Facebook’s users are outside of the United States, according to Gallagher, allowing these sites to reach a global audience. The flattening world allows people even in poor countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East to have access to smartphones and social media websites because of the cheaper costs of technology, so they can connect with each other and share information.
Because there are so many social media users on a global scale, these sites are a good source for action and organizing political and social activities, especially in countries experiencing instability. According to one site, “social media have already proven significant tools in myriad protests, causes, uprisings, and conflicts.” For example, a Time Article spoke about the use of Twitter as a tool during the 2009 presidential elections in Iran. Since Twitter gets out information quickly, easily, and concisely, it makes it ideal for mass movements. The Iranian government tried to suppress Twitter users from posting anything negative or oppositional about the elections, but this was not very successful. Even the US State Department intervened and told Twitter to delay maintenance until after the Iranian presidential elections were over, so protesters could have a chance to speak their mind in a public forum. It was also noted that the Iranian government tried to suspend Facebook use during that period because Facebook can be a convenient way to organize people to take group action.
There have been many other examples of social media use during the Arab Spring demonstrations and how it has been a tool for collective action. The tools not only allow people in the countries to connect with each other, but they display images and information that can be seen all around the world, so everyone else knows what is going on and can track history as it is unfolding. BBC News9 did a report about the Internet’s role in Egypt’s protests in 2011, and how large coalition of groups were organized through Facebook even after Egyptian government tried to block the sites. Reportedly 600,000 ‘liked’ a Facebook group to protest at Khaled Said’s death. People are able to communicate and meet virtually without the fear of getting broken up by police during a physical meeting. In Tunisia, Facebook had a huge effect. According to a professor of American studies at Birmingham University in England, Facebook was an important way to broadcast the news of what was happening in Tunisia and a reporter at BBC News said, “The fall of Mr. Ben Ali [President of Tunisia] showed people across the Arab World that poplar protests could bring down a dictator.” Social media has been a crucial aid in political protests and uprisings in many countries around the world.
Here is a video about social media use in the Arab World
One of the problems with the use of social media for protests is that governments can track the use of public dissenters on social media sites, and they can them into trouble. Posts are never truly private, so putting information into a public forum involves risks. For example, Iran turned the tables and used the Internet to arrest dissidents during the election. Other governments use social media for spreading their own propaganda and intimidating others. Some countries also seek to ban social media in general, such as China, North Korea, and Cuba. China is known as the “Great Firewall,” which censors Internet and media activity, and has been successful at banning Facebook and Twitter. These governmental actions can make it difficult for citizens to interact and participate in protests because of the fear of government backlash and the difficulty of communication. Regardless, social media is used as a crucial tool for activism, revolutions, and political uprisings in countries, and it is a way for everyone else to witness history as it is unfolding.
For more information, click on: