Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Did Facebook start a Revolution?

After the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia many people have argued that Facebook was responsible for these revolutions. It is important to value and critically analyze how the role of social media has been use as a political tool to bring change but without undermining the people who sacrificed their time, lives and families to bring about this change.  A more in depth and research essay, Streetbook: How Egyptian and Tunisian youth hacked the Arab Springby John Polluck in Technolgy Review, traces when Tunisian activists first started organizing online.

Polluck follows two Tunisian leaders from the organization, Takriz, that helped mobilized thousands of people against Tunisia’s president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. He traces their use of internet since 1998. Waterman (real names are unknown) recalls “that the internet was the only viable option for organizers in 1998”. Since 1998, Pollock explains how more Tunisians entered the virtual world but the numbers were very limited due to Ben Ali’s censorship. By the year 2009, the numbers dramatically changed and more than 800,000 Tunisians had a Facebook.

Polluck emphasizes how Facebook and other social networks function as a medium to spread awareness and mobilize thousands of people into massive anti-government protest. Facebook enabled  people to see and share video and photos of police brutality and raised momentum for movements such as “We are all Khaled Said”. It also helped guide the protests by spreading events on the times and places where they were occurring.The strategies and media tools used by Tunisian activists greatly influenced and inspired Egyptian civilians to mobilize. Polluck describes how “Egyptian activists were following the events in Tunisia, learning from them, and even communicating with some of the leaders -- over Facebook, of course. When one of the Egyptian movement's leaders heard the news from Tunisia, he started texting: Ben Ali gone. Possibility”.

One cannot deny that Facebook and other social networking site were critical in mobilizing people and bringing political change but I find it problematic when the use of Facebook is overemphasized as solely responsible for the Arab Spring.  I feel that this statement perpetuates a Western perspective that technology is the only medium for progress and continues the misrepresentation of Arab people incapable of ruling their own countries, let alone overthrow their government. This statement creates a certain dependency between Arab countries and the Western world and it erases the power of the Arab people and competency to overthrow their government. How can we as conscious students begin to deconstruct the ways certain forms of media can belittle certain  communities?


1 comment:

  1. A number of media critics share your skepticism about drawing too strong a connection between sites like Facebook and the Arab Spring (Sam Gregory, Henry Jenkins, Beth Coleman, etc.). After all, Travers Scott notes the frequency of "blogflops" where stories fail to capture the public's attention and imagination.