Protests and social media
by Omar Allam
Social media plays a large part in most of our daily lives through creating a platform for people to socialize and communicate and by keeping people up to date with the world around them. Its profound influence and wide reach is the reason why it played such a vital role in the Arab Spring; particularly the Egyptian revolution as well as the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement.
The start of the Egyptian revolution can be traced back to the Facebook page ‘kullena Khalid Said’ which stands for ‘we are all Khalid Said’. The Facebook page was created by Wael Ghonim in response to the police brutality in Egypt which saw the death of Khalid Said (Vargas, 2012). Shortly after the page was created it reached 250,000 followers, most of which marched onto Tahrir square and started the Egyptian revolution.
The Facebook page as well as other blogs and websites was a place for Egyptians to vent off their anger towards the corrupt regime and to also coordinate the marches and protests. The importance of social media can be paraphrased in the following quote from an Egyptian activist ‘We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world’ (Howard, 2011).
Moreover; some critics argue that the role of social media may have been exaggerated as less than half of the Egyptian population had access to the internet, and social media is not as popular in the middle east. These claims carry some merit as they are true, but, without social media, it is extremely unlikely that the revolution would have ended with the fall of Hosni Mubarak and his regime or maybe even that the revolution started. Also; to emphasize the importance of social media, Hosni Mubarak deemed it necessary to disrupt Facebook, Twitter and Blackberry services as well as phone and internet services as the protests were happening to limit the spread of anarchy (Al Jazeera, 2011). Thus; even if its effects were exaggerated, it had enough power to install fear into the regime which was a message within itself to the Egyptian population that the protests were working.
Elsewhere in the middle east; social media played a significant role in the Syrian crisis. But unlike the Egyptian revolution; social media was used by both sides rather than just the protestors. With their dictatorial government and heavily censored media it was imperative that social media was used to relay information between protestors, an example of this is how the people shared bomb threats on Twitter for the white helmets to come and help. To combat this the government had to also resort to social media. Salvadoretti states that the international debate was heavily influenced with social media by the government and rebel groups (2011).
Another protest which required the aid of social media is the Occupy Wall Street movement. This movement shortly followed the Egyptian revolution and to some extent it was influenced by it. The protest was mostly a way to show the dissatisfaction of the people with the capitalist system and how it severely disadvantages the less wealthy, it was also to target the richest 1% after the economic crisis as it affected them the least even though it was their doing which lead the economy to crash the way it did. The call to protest was started by Adbusters when they posted on their blog on 13 July 2011 (Castells, 2015). The message was simple, it was to demand democracy not corporatocracy.
Furthermore; the role social media played in the movement can be traced back to before the Adbusters blog. An activist network shared financial information about the US economy and its deterioration prior to the release of the blog. This information may have been the key to the entire movement as it put into perspective how when the economy started to perform badly, the 99% are having the worst of it. This lead to David DeGraw’s post in 2010 which stated that ‘it’s time for 99% of Americans to mobilize and aggressively move on common sense political reforms’. (Castells, 2015). Castell also emphasizes how social media was used as a form of protection to an extent. YouTube videos started surfacing of excessive violence and use of force by the NYPD, this mobilized the protestors and forced the police to act in a less violent manner to avoid getting exposed.
Furthermore; the success of Occupy! Can also be attributed to the location itself, Wall Street was not chosen as the place of protest randomly but rather due to its importance in capitalism. The location is a symbol of greed and money as well as corporatocracy, by shutting it down for even a moment large industries could have collapsed and billions of dollars would have been lost. Due to its importance in the global economy it was able to gain excessive media coverage which in turn increased awareness of the movement and lead to its success.
In conclusion; the power of social media cannot be underestimated. It might be difficult to see how social media has an effect outside of sharing pictures and connecting with old friends, but without it the world would not be in its current state of increasing globalization. The platforms provided to us through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. are a central part of our interconnectedness as people, as they allow us to express our opinions freely and find like minded individuals who also want to make a change.
Aljazeera.com. (2011). Timeline: Egypt’s revolution. Available online [Accessed 27 Apr. 2017].
Castells, M. (2015). Networks of Outrage and Hope. 1st ed. Wiley, pp.156-200.
Salvadoretti, T. (2011). The role of social media in the Syrian Crisis – Asfar. Asfar [Accessed 26 Apr. 2017].
Vargas, J. (2012). How an Egyptian Revolution Began on Facebook. NY times [Accessed 26 Apr. 2017].
Philip N. Howard. (2011). The Arab Uprising’s Cascading Effects | Smart Journalism. Real Solutions.. Available online [Accessed 26 Apr. 2017].