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Many media reports say that Twitter and Facebook played critical roles in the so-called Arab Spring. However, I find it hard to believe this, and I really haven't seen any concrete examples of how Facebook/Twitter started/caused/significantly promoted these revolutions. At best, I believe that they played the role of a new kind of telephone system.

Are there any concrete analyses/data about the role of social media in the protests?

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Strategic Forecast (stratfor.com) had a pretty decent analysis that touched on the topic.

http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20110202-social-media-tool-protest

Social Media as a Tool for Protest By Marko Papic and Sean Noonan

First, a factoid:

Shutting down the Internet did not reduce the numbers of Egyptian protesters in the streets. In fact, the protests only grew bigger as websites were shut down and the Internet was turned off.

Second, a couple of relevant points of analysis:

A leadership too reliant on social media can also become isolated from alternative political movements with which it may share the common goal of regime change. This is especially the case when other movements are not “youth movements” and therefore are not as tech savvy.

And their summary:

Social media represent only one tool among many for an opposition group to employ. Protest movements are rarely successful if led from somebody’s basement in a virtual arena. Their leaders must have charisma and street smarts, just like leaders of any organization. A revolutionary group cannot rely on its most tech-savvy leaders to ultimately launch a successful revolution any more than a business can depend on the IT department to sell its product. It is part of the overall strategy, but it cannot be the sole strategy.

As an excellent couple of example proving these idea are:

  • Iran. What you see on Twitter/Facebook is NOT always what the bulk of the society's picture is (Stratfor's separate analysis zeroed in on this).

  • Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister of Thailand and telecommunications magnate, has used his skills to hold video conference calls with stadiums full of supporters, and launched two massive waves of protests involving some 100,000 supporters against the Thai government in April 2009 and April and May 2010, yet he still has not succeeded in taking power. He remains a disembodied voice, capable of rocking the boat but incapable of taking its helm.

Read more: Social Media as a Tool for Protest | STRATFOR


On a less scholarly note, now that the idealistic ... wise people... may be started to realize that the "Arab Spring" just might not necessarily bring to power a wonderful western democracy style groups, but people some of whom gasp were affiliated with Al Qaeda, Facebook's Big Boss Mark Zuckerberg decided to play it humble and down-play the importance of Facebook:

Speaking at a meeting for internet governance, the so-called e-G8 summit in Paris, Zuckerberg said: "It would be extremely arrogant for any specific technology company to claim any meaningful role."

He said the wave of protests against autocratic governments sweeping through the Arab world could have been organised using other websites.

The 27-year-old CEO of the world's largest social networking site said: "The thing that was both necessary and sufficient was a population of people who felt very strongly that change needed to happen."

  • Note that he just says that a specific company should not claim credit and does not deny the importance of social media. – apoorv020 May 26 '11 at 18:10
  • @apoorv020 - he runs the company. Don't you think he wouldn't toot the horn as much as possible if he genuinely thought it would improve the brand? – user5341 May 26 '11 at 18:11
  • On a related note, there is a book called "Tweets from Tahir" that collects Twitter posts relating to the Tahir Square protests in Egypt into a narrative. 234 pages. worldcat.org/title/… – Tim Farley May 27 '11 at 14:24

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