The Arab Spring andThe August Riots: AnInsider’s Guide.By James Kirk
What Was The Arab Spring?• The “Arab Spring” is the term given to the surge of pro- democracy activism across the Middle East and North Africa particularly in the spring of 2011.• Political dissent was witnessed in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Yemen. Although by now most countries are experiencing transitional phases in the process, violent displays of oppression are still widespread, especially in Syria.• It is social media’s use during these revolutions that interest me greatly and I intend to discover how it encourage and promoted democratic practice.
Social Media Use Within theArab Spring• Taylor (2011), claims that the Arab Spring truly was a social media revolution. Quoting Professor Phillip Howard, she states that “Our evidence suggests that social media carried a cascade of messages about freedom and democracy across North Africa and the Middle East, and helped raise expectations for the success of political uprising” She then goes to say that “Ironically, says Howard, government efforts to crack down on social media may have incited more public activism, especially in Egypt. People who were isolated by efforts to shut down the internet, mostly middle-class Egyptians, may have gone to the streets when they could no longer follow the unrest through social media.”• These quotes suggest that social media facilitated a great deal of dissent towards the Egyptian government and in essence gave the Egyptian people a platform to mobilize and organize their political activism. By trying to control the internet and social media President Mubarak’s regime provoked social media users, often middle class Egyptians, into sacrificing their anonymity and beginning more forceful action against the government.• Evidence for the use of social media in other Arabic states is sparse and leads me to believe that the Egyptian revolution will be the most lucrative area for me to study in relation to the use of social media during the Arab Spring.
What Were the August Riots?• The “August Riots”, were a period of civil unrest within London and other major English cities. The riots began on the evening of the 6th August following the shooting of Mark Duggan by armed police in the Tottenham area of London. A group of youths clashed with the police and the civil unrest soon escalated into widespread arson, vandalism and looting.• Following this level of criminality, copycat incidents were witnessed in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and Bristol.• The chaos was concluded on the 10th August with a greater police presence in major English cities deterring further crimes.
Social Media Use Within theAugust Riots• During the riots both Facebook and Twitter occupied dual roles, in a sense serving the community and yet contributing to the unrest. Bright (2011) furthers this claim beginning by saying that its was the Twitter feed which provided the community with the most up to date account of what was happening, calling the BBC news coverage “incapable of keeping up with the changing situation”. Although unverified it seems twitter was assisting the community in providing them the most contemporary information.• The use of Facebook and Twitter to organize rioting and looting is well documented and so presents social media as a tool for destructive purposes, it wasn’t long before government officials were using it as a scapegoat for the civil disobedience.
Conclusion• It seems social media’s activities during both the Arab Spring and the August Riots were widespread and well documented. However, it doesn’t seem as black and white as I first theorised.• Its obvious that social media offered a platform for political activism during the Arab spring, particularly in Egypt. But to paint it as a destructive tool for its role in the August riots has become apparently naïve to me.• I shall proceed by refining my focus to the Egyptian political revolution and social media’s role within that. In regards to the August riots it seems that social media possessed a duality I was unaware of at first, it is this quality that I will focus on.
References• TAYLOR,K(2011) Arab Spring really was a social media revolution [WWW] Velum Media. http://www.tgdaily.com/software-features/58426-arab- spring-really-was-social-media-revolution [15/02/2012].• BRIGHT, P (2011) How the London riots showed us two sides of social networking [WWW] Available from: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2011/08/the-two- sides-of-social-networking-on-display-in-the-london-riots.ars [15/02/2012].