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ArticlesWill the revolution be tweeted? A conceptual framework for understanding the social media and the Arab Spring Pages 453-470 | Published online: 05 Sep 2012
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The goal of this article is to build a conceptual framework for understanding the role of social media in the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, considering two different disciplinary perspectives: International Relations and Internet Studies. More specifically, it relies on literature on Middle Eastern political systems and on social network sites. It also refers to literature that examines the relationship between (social) media engagement and civic engagement. Building on this foundation, the article analyses the main attempts to evaluate the ‘impact’ of social media on the ‘Arab Spring’ from specific perspectives. Commentators have tended to adopt a dichotomous vision of the topic, either emphasizing the ‘revolutionary’ role of social media or totally minimizing its role; this article defines them as digital evangelists and techno-realists respectively. In order to prove their point of view, both sides focus on the same issues. The study critically analyses the main issues, discussing how they have been interpreted by both digital evangelists and techno-realists. Through a multidisciplinary framework, it proposes a more nuanced picture of the relationship between the social media and the ‘Arab Spring’.
For instance, Twitter only supports short messages (the limit is 140 characters, hence its definition as a ‘microblogging’ site); links and photographs can also be shared. While ‘friendship’ on Facebook is a symmetrical relationship (both parts need to ‘accept’ the friend's request), on Twitter the relationship is asymmetrical (‘follower’/‘following’): there is no need to ‘follow back’ someone who is following us, and only a small minority of users have a ‘private’ profile, while others do not have to authorize/approve people willing to follow them. As the majority of profiles are open, users can both read tweets by users they follow and have access to general discussions, mainly through a keyword search (# hashtags); the most popular themes discussed at a specific moment, worldwide or in single countries, become ‘trending topics’, thereby gaining further popularity. Users also have the opportunity to ‘retweet’ a message to their followers, thus contributing to its (viral) spread, or to address tweets to specific users (@mention).
The two authors confront their opposing views in Gladwell and Shirky (2011)
Some of the authors we are referring to in the present paragraph may not recognize themselves under the label ‘Internet scholar’; however, we have decided to include them on the basis of their analytical consideration of the relationships between the technological and the social factors that are related to Internet use, consistent with the multidisciplinary tradition of Internet Studies.
As we cannot summarize the whole special section, we have decided to give a brief account of the papers that will be useful for further development of this article. Nevertheless, we strongly recommend reading the whole special section, as all articles provide inspiring perspectives, from both a theoretical and an empirical point of view.
“Cyberactivism” in the Arab Spring: what social media can and cannot do
International Affairs Forum
Published online: 11 Nov 2013
The ‘story’ of digital excess in revolutions of the Arab Spring
Journal of Media Practice
Published online: 3 Jan 2014
Published online: 16 Dec 2014
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