How Social Media Caused Revolutions
This is part of an article I wrote in 2018. I am sharing it as a follow up to a previous article I wrote (which can be found on my medium page.
In December 2017, street protests hit Iran. The tens of thousands of protestors who took to the streets represented “the most serious and widespread expression of public discontent in Iran since mass protests in 2009”. Central to this was social media. As the instant messaging application Telegram was used to organise some of the protests, the Iranian government called for the founder of Telegram to close a group on the platform. This call by the government to shut down the group chat took place on Twitter, a social media platform that was, ironically, also used to cause more protests across the country by other citizens.
The incident in Iran showed that technology has been able to influence politics in more than one way. Firstly, technology has given citizens the choice to be constantly informed and politically engaged if they choose to. As journalists begin to report first on Twitter, the shift from traditional media sites to social media sites as a source of breaking news has not been surprising. The speed at which we receive information, whether factual or not, has changed, thereby allowing us to be politically engaged as often as we want. Secondly, it has also given people ways to become politically active, thereby increasing political participation. Finally, it has given people tools for persuasion. From protestors to the government, each person has the chance to influence others into joining them on a mission for change or subscribe to a new ideology.
A well-known example is that of the Arab Spring of 2010 to 2012. Sparked by Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself alight in front of a government building in Tunisia, protests emerged across the country as a result of his actions, with many capturing the protests on their cellphones and sharing footage via social media. Setting off uprisings across the Middle East, social media played a pivotal role in the development of the Arab Spring. Facebook and Twitter were essential forms of political engagement and participation, with some such as Esraa Abdel Fattah — also known as “Facebook Girl” — becoming popular on the basis of their “social media savvy” and online activism.
The advantage of social media was the opportunity it provided those under dictatorial regimes to engage in politics. During the Arab Spring, Facebook pages were created to raise awareness of issues such as police brutality in Egypt. In a Facebook poll, nine out of 10 Egyptians and Tunisians acknowledged they used Facebook as a tool to spread awareness and organise protests.
Social media plays a crucial role in the political arena not just in the Arab world, but also in the United Kingdom (UK). It has become integral to the way we communicate. It has changed the way people interact with each other, the type of information provided and shared, and the news sources available…