THE ROLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE ARAB UPRISING

Political analyst Ali al-Bouazizi said, “images are like weapons. They can help topple a regime.”

There has been a constant debate about the role of social media and the Arab uprising. On one hand there are those that claim that it sparked the Arab revolution while others claim that it galvanizes it.In Tunisia for instance, a team of bloggers wrote about the uprising as it developed. Sami Ben Gharbia co-founder of Nawaat, is one such blogger. He together with other bloggers contributed to Nawaat; a collective blog that was started in 2004. It is a platform for people to engage with the issues and concerns affecting Tunisians.A Tunisian Girl” was also another popular blog run by Lina Ben Mheni, a 29 year assistant professor. The blog proved to be an important portal whereby people got information about the revolution as it progressed. Subsequently, the information was shared and distributed across the internet through Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube allowing the world a see what was happening in countries such as Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.

Like Mheni, all one needed was a phone with a camera, a laptop and a mobile Internet connection. After realising the power social media had ordinary citizens with no journalistic background took it upon themselves to broadcast the real situations on the ground. Most of them used cellphones that could capture videos, sound and pictures or a small camera and an internet connection. Interestingly, most of the footage was taken by young people.For example the documentary titled Images of Revolution produced by Aljazeera shows powerful video footage shot by a young school teacher Mariam Salim and her sister Nada in Cairo, Egypt. The cellphone footage shows an unarmed man walking on an empty street towards the police officers with his arms stretched out. The police officers fires at him but misses the first time. The man then decides to step backwards and then the next shot is fired killing him instantly.

Then man later came to be identified as Khaled Said. Soon there a Facebook page titled We are all Khalid Said” was created in his honour. In addition, an event titled “The Day of the Revolution Against Torture, Poverty, Corruption and Unemployment” was created on 25 January and most of the more than 80,000 people who clicked “yes” showed up at Tahir Square.

Social media has given freedom of expression a completely new meaning and it shows how much power people have within their reach. Perhaps, nobody would have given much thought to Mohammed Bouazizi, the young fruit seller who set himself alight in Tunisia (which subsequently gave rise to what has become known as the Arab Spring) had it been broadcast in one of the mainstream media houses in Tunisia. It is the fact that it went viral and when people from all over saw what was happening, they ‘fanned the fire’ as it were.

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