Did social media play a pivotal role in the Arab Spring? A recent report from the United States Institute of Peace says maybe not.
“New media outlets that use bit.ly are more likely to spread information outside the region than inside it, acting like a megaphone more than a rallying cry” (Aday, 2013). Despite this claim, one cannot fail to acknowledge how much of a role this played in making the movement that came out of the Arab Spring successful.
A prime example of this is the way the protests played out in Egypt. First quiet on the ordeal, thinking that a regime change was not imminent, the Obama Administration did not pressure Mubarak. When it became evident, through coverage with the help of social media, Obama then supported an “orderly transition.” When the protests started to go full scale, Obama publicly called for Mubarak to resign.
The Arab Spring has had less effect in countries that maintain a strict control on social media. In Bahrain, the Al Khalifa monarchy has deployed a mostly successful strategy of preventing major protests from unfolding in the capital city and implanted a harsh crackdown on activists and opposition parties. In fact, knowing how effective social media can be in propelling protests, two years ago “six Twitter users were sentenced to a year in prison each by a Bahrain court for allegedly insulting King Al Khalifa on an online blog” (Rowder, Business Insider, 2013).
Syria is another country that, while not coming from the actual nation itself, has had its conflict elevated by social media. Activists like Kenan Rahmani have initiated social media devices to draw attention. His “Syria Updater” program has taken over Facebook and Twitter feeds alike. It’s not just for the opposition; Assad regime supporters like the Syrian Electronic Army have also employed communications strategies in favor of their cause.
Either way, social media has been proven to ignite and add to unrest and conflicts. Whether from inside the nation or out, it will continue to shape and contribute to debates well into the future.