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Nygaard 1 Gabrielle Nygaard MSCM 345 Final project The Arab Spring, Social Media and Democracy The

yet ongoing uprisings that started around late 2010 in Tunisia known as the Arab Spring have been coined Facebook and Twitter revolutions for the pioneering, if overstated, role of social media. Social media is generally considered to be any web-based or mobile communications technology that allows the creation and exchange of user-generated content (Dewey, Kaden, Marks, Matsushima & Zhu, 2012, p.3). Facebook, the social networking site, and Twitter, the microblogging site, are the two most recognized platforms both worldwide and within the Arab Spring. These technologies that allow for widespread citizen participation in discourse have been hypothesized to be democratizing. The Arab Spring, in which social media was used for informational, organizational and motivational purposes by activists pursuing more democratic political systems, is oft cited as a case in point. However, a factor often overlooked is that the governments targeted by these movements utilized the same technologies to stifle and counter such voices to varying degrees of success, thus throwing the viability of such a classification into question. Via a literature review, this proposition as well as counterarguments will be considered against the unique features of social media as framed by the Arab Spring. Egalitarianism and civic participation Social media is interactive and, unlike many other mass communication mediums, allows for not only unlimited consumption but creation of content by all parties. Without space or other constrictions, all voices may be published and potentially heard. This quality is believed to promote civic participation and democracy by constituting a forum in which all sides have the

Nygaard 2 opportunity to be represented and for their views to be disseminated and regarded. Manuel Castells network theory notes that this egalitarian nature of online communication is one characteristic of social networks that is valuable for political activism (Storck, 2011, p. 17). Democracy is often considered a political realization of egalitarianism, and the nature of social media has been defined similarly. The ability to participate in political discourse supplied by social media is argued to promote not just civic engagement generally but democratic systems of governance because its organization fosters democratic values. Says Hilbert (2007), democracy is the opposite of coercion of power. Less coercion of one person over another leads to more equal standing among citizens, and therefore equal participation in the formation of the common will is seen as positive and more power relations among people as negative. (p. 7) The many-to-many organization of social media, as opposed to mass medias traditional one-tomany format, appears to cohere with these sentiments as it puts all users on a level playing field and facilitates such formation of common will. Such qualities are factors that have led to recognition of the technology as democratizing. Unregulated sphere Furthermore, social media is considered an alternative sphere because it constitutes a realm in which discourse and even dissent can occur unregulated and uncensored by groups in power. This serves informational and organizational purposes in political mobilization efforts, as groups theoretically have access to and can publicize information that might otherwise be suppressed. Such possibilities appear distinctly opposed to the principles and stability of autocratic rule. Acknowledges Shirky (2011), communicative freedom is good for political freedom.

Nygaard 3 The unregulated sphere social media currently constitutes is one hard for regimes to exert control over, and as such allegedly more suited to utilization by citizens, who can voice diverse and even dissenting views that might otherwise be quashed, than by established authority. In the Egyptian uprising, citizen journalism via social media allowed those directly involved in protest activities to shape their own narrative (Storck, 2011, p. 27). The magnitude of social media in comparison to other channels also provides for this; 1,000 Twitter users are more difficult to exercise control over than 10 newspapers. Likewise, established authority may see losses in influence for similar reasons in these media; an officials tweets may be lost in the sea of content created by citizen users. Although social media is generally unregulated, a crucial factor to consider is who controls social media as a channel. Currently, key platforms including Facebook and Twitter lie in the hands of private companies whose conduct can determine the parameters users worldwide must work within (Joseph, 2012, p. 151). Joseph (2012) raises the question, What social or human rights responsibilities do these entities have to their users? Is it appropriate to place any faith in them as facilitators and guardians of a revolution? What if they oppose a progressive, democratic revolution? After all, the status quo often suits big business. (p. 176) Thus, although it is not the government, those who preside over these media are nevertheless self-interested parties which may pose a threat to activists ability to utilize social media. Although these companies generally originate from democratic societies, their loyalties do not necessarily lie with such causes elsewhere (although this has generally been the case so far); they also originate from capitalist societies, and profit may be their priority. When governments request these companies to limit their services or censor content, the continued viability of social

Nygaard 4 media as a tool for political activism is at the mercy of those who control the channels. Hence the mobilization opportunities of social media depend on such decisions of individuals. In the words of Gillespie (2012), Despite [Twitters] nominal (and in practice substantive) commitment to protecting speech, they are a private provider, that retains the rights and responsibilities to curate their user content according to rules they choose. Anti-hierarchical Movements fostered on social media, especially Twitter, have been said to have less clearly defined leaders than movements fostered in other realms, perhaps because of the previously discussed egalitarian nature of these media that gives all parties opportunity for participation and all content equal space, or perhaps arising out of a conscious decision by activists to utilize the unique possibilities the structure of such social media allows for. Regardless, this tendency against hierarchal structure, beyond being recognized as a primer for democratic values, has been said to be beneficial to the democratizing causes of the Arab Spring. Howard et al. (2011) explain, For the most partthe political uprising was leaderless so there was no long-standing revolutionary figurehead, traditional opposition leader, or charismatic speechmaker who could be arrested (p. 9). Because the leadership of these causes is often less distinct, identifying the head of the snake in effort to kill the body becomes challenging. However, social media revolutionaries can achieve fame; for example, Wael Ghonmim who started as an unknown online activist but reached celebrity, honorary leader status via Facebook, was indeed arrested, demonstrating that movements fostered on social media are not completely immune to hierarchy. Reach

Nygaard 5 The reach of social media, potentially universal and currently spanning many corners of the globe, allows for wide dispersal of knowledge and diversity of opinion. The worldwide reach of social media postings from one uprising have been said to be contagious, acting to encourage similar motions in other states or areas. In addition, parties beyond the nation in which an uprising occurs can, as a result of social media or through it, provide support to these causes. For example, in the case of Tunisia, Outside the country, the hacker communities of Anonymous and Telecomix helped cripple government operations with their Operation Tunisiac denial-ofservice attacks, and by building software activists used to get around state firewalls (Howard et al., 2011, p. 8). Social medias capability to spread messages on a global scale can engender the support of outside forces. Although cases of this thus far often exhibit individuals from democratic societies aiding dissenters in the pursuit of democracy, this ideology is not embedded into the medium, as for example Facebook pages disparaging activists have been used to engender support in the opposite direction. Encouragement of expression and proliferation of viewpoints Social media is believed to promote freedom of expression and varied opinion. The multiple viewpoints it facilitates, by providing a wealth of voices beyond those mainstream or mandated, are central to deliberative forms of democracy. Although room for varying perspectives is key to democracy, it can also pose challenges. Brisson and Lee (2011) note, This explosion of voices and perspectives in Egypt is undoubtedly a positive force Yet it remains unclear to what extent the numerous and divergent channels will contribute value to a national dialogue. Many are likely to just add noise. The challenge faced by media policymakers in Egypt is a sharpened version of one that societies are facing all

Nygaard 6 over the world. In the age of new media, how can a country develop an inclusive, constructive discourse on national issues? (p. 17) A proliferation of voices in not necessarily constructive, and can in fact result in noise that detriments progress and delays consensus, especially in nations starting from scratch such as those that successfully overthrew their governments in the course of the Arab Spring. Dewey et al. (2012) write, increased access to online information by the public, combined with the often unregulated ability to publish a wide variety of information, can actually lead to an oversupply of confusing, inaccurate and distracting information (p. 10). Thus the nature of social media may not necessarily lend itself to the realization of effective democracy or any form of government, but rather to the dethroning of an undesirable one that is already in power. Galvanization Social media is an active media, calling upon the individual to engage and search for information as opposed to simply delivering it as is the case with other mass media forms. As such, it has been argued to be inherently more galvanizing and encouraging of participation in discourse, and by extension civic matters including protests. One explanation for this may be a positive feedback; the ability to produce and consume political content, independent of social elites, is important because the public sense of shared grievances and potential for change can develop rapidly (Howard et al., 2011, p. 23). But this activation does not equate with predetermined social or political outcomes, warns Joseph (2012), social media increases participation; but greater participation does not necessarily lead to democracy and pluralism. It depends on the values people bring to the table (p. 174). Again, social media shows itself to be apt to support social mobilization more generally, unspecific of underlying sentiments.

Nygaard 7 Sense of community Social media gives divergent views space they may not garner elsewhere. This provides an outlet for minority voices and the opportunity to challenge monopolies whereas other media may not offer the same leverage or may be controlled by an authoritarian rule that would not allow such views to be disseminated. Moreover, this facet of social media can alleviate reluctance to participate in political activities by breaking the psychological barrier of fear. This is achieved by providing a sense of community even to those of minority opinions as they are able to connect with and view likeminded perspectives. This combats the spiral of silence that may be a factor in regimes ability to persist. Write Zhuo, Wellman and Yu (2011), In a repressive society, there are dangers that each person fearfully thinks that he or she stands alone. Social media helped to build a sense of community and minimize this feeling of isolation (p. 8). This effect may create a positive feedback, as seen by Storck (2011): Once individuals found out that other people would be protesting, they were more likely to join themselves. Eventually, a tipping point occurs, when the protest or activity becomes self-reinforcing, and increases without further direct organization or action by the leadership. (p. 26) This ability to connect distant parties and provide a sense of unity is vital in social medias usefulness as a social mobilization tool. Storck (2011) summarizes that empirical evidence shows a significant increase in use of social media for social/civil mobilization in the Arab world in early 2011, a shift which did not cause the subsequent revolutions, but nonetheless played a crucial role in them by gathering real time information and facilitating physically distant and socially diverse relationships (p. 7).

Nygaard 8 The anonymity the Internet offers is another factor in conquering barriers of fear to achieve participation. Storck (2011) warns that although it allows previously unheard individuals to express their dissent without fear of authoritative backlash, there is also the possibility for abuse of this anonymity, such as cases of false accounts (p. 31). These can range from purely those sensationalistic, to even government plants looking to undermine or counter the sentiments of vocal opposition. Attitude about authority Social media has been suggested to promote a certain attitude about authority that favors democracy and egalitarianism. Both the Internet generally and social media have been argued to encourage a disregard for the long chain of authority, for established hierarchies that used to structure decision making (Hofheinz, 2011, p. 1425). This attitude would logically result in democratic views, or at least positions opposed to authoritarian rule. Explains Hofheinz (2011), The attitude coming to expression there is one of no longer unquestioningly accepting what authorities decide, but checking for oneself, coming to ones own conclusions, making ones own decisions. And this attitude is fostered by the structure of interaction on the Internet. (p. 1426) According to Hilbert (2007), democracy is based on the principle of self-determination which asserts that the individual is the most appropriate party to determine their future (p. 15). The structure of the Internet and social media appear to promote such principles, and thus transitively may be seen to lean towards democratization inherently. Scholars such as Zhuo, Wellman and Yu (2011) see changes in some of the post-uprising nations that seem to reflect shifts to the types of organization mirroring that of social media:

Nygaard 9 The ways in which the revolt played out more subtly suggest that, much like Western societies, parts of Egyptian society are transforming away from traditional groups and towards more loosely structured networked individualism. There is less group controland more autonomyin networked societies. (p. 6) Social media: Speed, size and success packaged As indicated, social media makes for potentially vast, quick, and weighty movements, qualities that culminate in a bigger threat to established authorities (Hofheinz, 2011, p. 1428). Social media is painted as a juggernaut force, if appropriately orchestrated. The size and speed of communications are reflected in the impressive escalation of Arab Spring movements following key events. Although the underlying values had long been incubating, social media is said to have accelerated, facilitated and made large contributions to the overall success of the uprisings. In an exceptionally swift case, Egyptian activists unseated Mubarak in a mere 18 days, which Storck (2011) attributes to the efficient use of social media networks as a form of organizational infrastructure, as Egyptian activists were able to successfully play off the strengths of the social networking capabilities of Facebook and Twitter by capitalizing on their many-to-many communication capabilities and the speed with which information can be transferred and spread, an inherent characteristic to any digital media. (p. 25) However, these same factors may, instead of benefiting, harm such movements. Scholars have suggested that it is possible for these movements to move too fast; Joseph (2012) writes, The conversations arising from newly available information might not have been sufficiently mature or sophisticated to establish a properly functioning public sphere or civil society. Perhaps the resultant loose networks moved prematurely towards

Nygaard 10 galvanization and organization. As Morozov put it, [j]ust because you can mobilize a hundred million people on Twitter . . . does not mean that you should; it may only make it harder to accomplish more strategic objectives at some point in the future. Perhaps there is a danger that the authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt will be replaced by failed States. (p. 187) Joseph (2012) qualifies this by noting that It is patronizing to assume, however, that the Arab world is not ready for democracy, or that it is better for them to remain perpetually under the thumb of stagnant, autocratic, brutal, and corrupt regimes (p. 187). Rather, this observation points more to the challenges any nation faces after overthrowing established leadership, and suggests these issues might be magnified by the speed with which this was accomplished in some Arab Spring states. This further identifies social medias adeptness for deposing as opposed to instating political institutions of any sort. Caveats: Government utilization of social media A primary objection to the suggestion that social media is democratizing is that a government can attempt to censor, control access, or use it to mislead or spread their own ideology. Some, such as Evgeny Morozov, even believe that social media help dictators more than it does protestors; Morozov is quoted by Dewey et al. (2012) as suggesting that The Iranian government and its hard-line supporters used mobile and Internet technology all too astutely against the protesters. Gleaning information from Facebook, they sent threatening messages to Iranians living abroad, text-messaged Iranians to stay home and avoid the protests, and urged pious Iranians to fight back online. (p. 14) This is just one example of how these tools can be wielded to resist democracy. Further cases include Egyptian Facebook pages acting as virtual lynch mobs that deterred anti-government

Nygaard 11 activities through public shaming (Howard et al., 2011, p. 16). The case of Bahrain encapsulates the government mirroring the exact techniques of dissidents against them, and serves as a cautionary tale for social media activists; write Dewey et al. (2012), In Bahrain, the adeptness of the government at using social media sites to track down dissidents highlights the ways in which social media can be a double-edged sword. Protestors utilized Facebook in order to reach wide audiences and transmit information at rapid speeds. The government similarly capitalized on this feature to locate targets more quickly than would have been possible with traditional media. (p. 22) Backfiring Although activists must be aware of the risk of social media use being turned against them, governments face similar chances for attempts to stifle dissent having the opposite effect. Suppressive efforts have been seen to backfire in the Arab Spring. In the case of the Egyptian governments shut-down of the Internet, Howard et al. (2011) say, taking down pieces of the nations information infrastructure crippled government agencies. The people most affected were middle-class Egyptians, who were cut off from Internet service at home. Some people apparently stayed there, isolated and uncertain about the status of their friends and family. But in the absence of information about the crisis, others took to the streets. Mubaraks move to shut off the protestors may have bolstered their ranks as people filled the streets to find out what was happening. (p. 16) Additionally, activists anticipated the block and were able to make provisions and continue organizing despite it (Storck, 2011, p. 23). Although attempting to silence dissent through control of media or efforts to track down and arrest specific protesters can serve to stifle certain voices, and may instill fear and promote silence, there is also potential that this will further

Nygaard 12 invigorate the public. In this distinction, the will of the people, the historical context and climate of the situation rather than nature of the medium are key. Digital divide The digital divide may also pose a roadblock to social medias realization as an inclusive and democratic tool. Although the Arab region has experienced the highest rates of technology adoption amongst all developing nations over the last ten years, the demographics using social media are skewed young and educated, neither representative of the whole population nor universally available as of yet (Storck, 2011, p. 14). Compounding this, says Storck, (2011), [A] highly ambivalent and complex relationship between media and governments has developed, in which Arab autocracies have encouraged Internet penetration in the name of economic development, while simultaneously attempting to maintain control over the spread of information and media sources. (p.16) But in spite of such complications, both access and use of these technology continue to spread across the population; the digital divide may yet be bridged, and, as above outlined, autocracies have had difficulty managing these technologies. Conclusion: Neither democratizing nor autocrazing The upshot of the examination of these key points about the nature of the technology, as demonstrated in the Arab Spring, is that social media is not inherently democratizing but neutral, and its use depends on the purposes of the people employing it. It can be used to liberate or oppress. The use of social media tools does not have a single preordained outcome, assesses Shirky (2011), addressing the Do digital tools enhance democracy? question by saying they probably do not hurt in the short run and might help in the long runand that they have the most dramatic effects in states where a public sphere already constrains the actions of the

Nygaard 13 government. To say that social media caused the movements of the Arab Spring invokes technological determinism and a narrow view. Social media alone did not catalyze the Arab Spring, but appears to have encouraged, hastened, and undoubtedly facilitated it. The myriad other contextual factors at play, including the important roles of history and the will of the people, were so influential in the fueling of these revolutions that that it has been argued that with or without social media, they would have occurred (and been successful) eventually. Social media only accelerated the more or less inevitable, arguably strengthened it, and further shaped it. From this review of the various features of social media, it does seem to be a tool that structurally lends itself more to the purposes of the many over the few, but that is not to say regimes cannot emerge as the more successful force when the public takes to mobilization efforts online. Authoritarian governments can and have imposed sanctions on and wielded social media for their own ends, including to befuddle their citizenries and suppress dissent. Considering such factors, rather than democratizing, social media arrive as more suited to felling a regime than to establishing a new form of government, especially one hinging on consensus. Indeed, these aspects prove social media a powerful tool for anti-government activists. But these tools may also be put to use to preserve autocracies. The individual nations of the Arab Spring can serve not only as inspiration for other uprisings, as appears to have been the case, but as case studies to authorities to learn how to cope with these threats. Social media thus presents not a panacea but a double-edged sword to democratic movements. Key factors that are not internal to social media but affect their function in social mobilizations include the will of the people and who controls the medium. Indeed, As an amplifier of human intent, technology will only be as effective as the offline social networks it is built upon, and only as good as human intent is able to direct it (Brisson and Lee, 2011, p. 31).

Nygaard 14 Moreover, those who govern social media and have the capability to regulate it must be at least permissive of their causes; activists can perhaps only expect social media companies to do the right thing to the extent that such activism does not conflict with their commercial goals (Joseph, 2012, p. 186). As argued by Storck (2011), the Internet is not a deterministic one-directional force for either global liberation or oppression but one that can and has allowed all these forces to flourish. Storck emphasizes the dangers of overgeneralization in pointing out that though Tunisian and Egyptian activists were seemingly able to exploit the benefits of social networking to great success, in other Arab states, such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, protesters who tried to replicate strategies used in Egypt were quickly crushed by stateled security forces. (p. 36) According to Dewey et al. (2012), U.S. presidents from Reagan to Obama have argued that the long-term survival of authoritarian states depends on their ability to control the flow of ideas and information within and across their borders (p. 29). As such, it can be tempting to conclude that because social media seem to democratize the flow of ideas and information, they are politically democratizing; however, it does not follow that the culmination of an open flow of information is always democratic sentiments, much less governance. Perhaps the flaw in the social media is democratizing line of thought is the assumption that democracy is the only logical and universally most favorable system. Instead of pinning social media as the harbinger of democracy, it may be more useful to note its potential as a disrupter of regimes. Storck (2011) reminds, though the Internet may possess enormous liberating potential, it is harnessing this potential and translating it into political reality that proves itself to be far harder to accomplish (p. 38). Echo Dewey et al., the lack of substantial democratic change in Iran hints that the mere

Nygaard 15 dissemination of a message does not automatically result in tangible change, i.e. democratization (2012, p. 14). In fact, there are certain potential roadblocks to achieving consensus it presents. Thus the role of social media in future stages for the nations of the Arab Spring may be as crucial as that behind in shaping political outcomes, be it to help or hurt democratizing efforts. Questions that now must be considered include, given these circumstances, what provisions can be made to ensure the availability of social media as a tool to oppressed peoples? What are the implications of these media being controlled by private companies? What will social medias role be in establishing new political organizations post-uprising? For centuries, the importance of expression of opinion as a vital safeguard against the despotic use of state power (Thompson, 2011, p. 99) has been recognized, and successive new communication technologies have been prematurely hailed as great liberating forces only for their dark sides to later become apparent. New media conducive to fostering participation can indeed increase [freedoms] such as access to information, and the freedom of citizens to converse with one another, says Shirky (2011), just as the printing press, the postal service, the telegraph, and the telephone did before. Perhaps the missing ingredient needed to understand the nature of social media, still in its infancy as a mass media, is retrospect.

Nygaard 16 References Brisson, Z., & Lee, P. (2011). Egypt: From Revolutions to Institutions. Reboot. Retrieved from Dewey, T., Kaden, J., Marks, M., Matsushima, S., & Zhu, B. (2012). The Impact of Social Media on Social Unrest in the Arab Spring. Defense Intelligence Agency. Retrieved from Gillespie, T. (2012, July 31). Is Twitter us or them? [Web log post]. Retrieved from Hilbert, M. (2007). Digital Processes and Democratic Theory: Dynamics, risk and opportunities when democratic institutions meet digital information and communication technologies. Retrieved from Hofheinz, A. (2011). Nextopia? Beyond Revolution 2.0. International Journal of Communication, 5, 14171434. Retrieved from Howard, P., Duffy, A., Freelon, D., Hussain, M., Mari, W., & Mazaid, M. (2011). Opening Closed Regimes: What Was the Role of Social Media During the Arab Spring?Project on Information Technology and Political Islam. Retrieved from ing%20the%20Arab%20Spring.pdf Joseph, S. (2012). Social Media, Political Change, and Human Rights. Boston College International and Comparative Law Review, 35(1), 145-188. Retrieved from

Nygaard 17 Shirky, C. (2011). The Political Power of Social Media. Foreign Affairs, 90(1), 28-41. Storck, M. (2011). The Role of Social Media in Political Mobilisation: a Case Study of the January 2011 Egyptian Uprising. Institute for Cultural Diplomacy. Retrieved from ers/2012-02-bifef/The_Role_of_Social_Media_in_Political_Mobilisation__Madeline_Storck.pdf Thompson, J. (2011). The trade in news. In D. Crowley & P. Heyer (Eds.), Communication in history: Technology, culture, society (6, pp. 95-100). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. Zhuo, X., Wellman, B., & Yu, J. (2011, July/September). Egypt: The First Internet Revolt? Peace Magazine, 6-10. Retrieved from