Technological determinism believes social media is a tool for
Analysis of the human/machine relationship
Was this a virtual or real revolution - online or offline?
The shift in power since the dawn of technological advances
The limits of online activism.
This paper will explore the phenomenon
discussing the following:
In December 2010, a 26-year-old Tunisian named Mohamed Bouazizi set
himself on fire.
The extreme act came after he was banned from selling fruit to earn a
living but it triggered a remarkable series of events that became known
as the Arab Spring.
Tunisia: January 4th
Mohamed Bouazizi dies and in a show of solidarity more than 5,000 joined
in his funeral procession.
Did Egypt Tweet Its Way to Freedom?
The story of how the Arab world erupted was now being seen through
the eyes of the people using the internet and social media to try to
overthrow their leaders.
In fact, the most popular hashtag of 2011 was #egypt. (BBC, 2012)
The phrase "Sidi Bouzid" (Bouazizi's home city) became a shorthand for
the revolt. (Twitter quote: Family of Mohamed Bouazizi, 26, of
#Sidibouzid say he died on Tuesday night. His self-immolation
inspired popular uprising in #Tunisia, 2011)
On Twitter, participants began labeling messages discussing the
uprisings with #sidibouzid, and on January 14, 2011 the people
celebrated after the resignation of Ben Ali. (Gaffney et al., 2011)
In 2011, protesters didn't just voice their
complaints; they changed the world,’ that
was how Time magazine saw it when it
named The Protester as their 2011 Person of
The Year, five years after naming You as their
Person of The Year. (Image: TIME)
Tunisian protesters demonstrate beneath a poster of
Mohammed Bouazizi in January.
How it unfolded
The Tunisian Revolution, which successfully ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali,
consisted of a series of street demonstrations in January 2011 following the self-
immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi on December 17, 2010.
Buoyed by the success, opposition groups and activists in Egypt organised a
demonstration in Cairo for January 25, to protest abuse by police. (Egyptian
revolution of 2011, 2015)
A series of protests involving civil resistance— illegal in Egypt—ensued over several
weeks, spreading to other major cities in the country, resulting in violence as
protesters clashed with police forces loyal to President Hosni Mubarak.
The military refused to fire upon the protesters, most notably in Tahrir Square where
protesters camped out in civil resistance. Mubarak resigned on February 11,
2011. (Egyptian revolution of 2011, 2015)
Twitter adopted as a tool of the uprising and a famous designer felt
wrath of web after gaffe
CNN reported how Kenneth Cole committed
quite the faux pas when he used the unrest in
Egypt to plug his latest collection on Twitter.
Cole apologized for the misguided tweet on
both Twitter and Facebook within hours,
saying that he wasn't "intending to make light
of a serious situation."
(Dumbest moments in business, 2011)
Revolution rages on and offline
Using Twitter as a tool of revolution, in January a student in Cairo
with the Twitter name @alya1989262 was the first to use #Jan25
in a tweet. (Schonfeld, 2011)
Egypt: January 25th, known as “The Day of Revolt” marks the start
of protests calling for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step
Protesters organise on Facebook and Twitter.
The Egyptian government shuts down access to networks.
Egypt: January 27, Egypt blocks nearly all
Internet access.(Stearne, D. and McCullagh, D. (2015) Declan McCullagh. Available at: http://www.cnet.com/news/egypts-internet-still-offline-a-day-later/ )
What did Twitter do?
Twitter emerged as a key source for real-time logistical coordination.
(Gaffney et al., 2011)
After analysing more than three million tweets, gigabytes of YouTube
content and thousands of blog posts, a 2011 study found social media
played a central role in shaping political debates in the Arab Spring.
During the week before Mubaraks resignation, study found rate of tweets
on Arab Spring ballooned from 2,300 a day to 230,000 a day.
The Egyptian government's blackout from January 26–February 2.
A powerful blue bird – or a powerful
Study after President Hosni Mubarak’s
resignation. (Remington and Writer, 2012)
52% had a Facebook profile and almost
all used it for communication about
the protests; only 16% had a Twitter
But 48.4% first heard about the protests
from face-to-face communications.
‘Traditional mass media were far less
important for [informing] people
about the protest than were more
interpersonal means of
telephone, or Facebook),’ the study
Here comes the science bit…proof of
‘Twitter is your window to the world.’ (Twitter, 2015)
Kellner said ‘the political battles of the future may well be fought in the streets,
factories, parliaments and other sites of past struggle, but politics is already
mediated by broadcast computer, and IT and will be so increasingly in the
‘Smart mobs’ of socially active people linked by emerging mobile devices can
become cyber activists relatively easily.
The politics of technology outlined by Winner argues that machines are not neutral,
but are fostered by groups to preserve or alter social relations.
Twitter and Facebook are indeed useful tools, but they are not tools of
revolution — at least, no more than American patriot Paul Revere’s horse.
It is still down to people to be the tools of revolution, whether their dissent is
spread by whisper, by letter, by tweets, or by some means we haven’t yet
Shutting down the internet forced people out on the streets to protest, as many
view the ability to connect as a fundamental right.
It took a million-strong movement to overthrow of Mubarak's government, and
it happened when the state had pulled the plug on the internet
In conclusion, credit for freedom’s wave in the Middle East belongs more to
human beings standing together than to a tide of tweets.