Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Social Network's Big Impact on Political Changes


Change is happening in the Middle East. In what is known as the “Arab Spring”, people all over the Arab world are holding demonstrations to protest government corruption and police brutality. One of the main driving forces behind this era of revolution is social media and its networks. From the news articles, I’ve seen that the start of the Arab Spring can be traced to one act of protest.

About a year ago, 26-year old Mohamed Bouazizi was selling fruits and vegetables in a small rural city in Tunisia when a policewoman asked him to hand over his cart. Bouazizi didn’t have a permit to sell the goods, but as the sole source of income for his widowed mother and six siblings, he didn’t have a choice. Naturally, Bouazizi refused to give his cart to the policewoman. As a result, she publically humiliated him by slapping him. Angered by the humiliation, Bouazizi went to the front of a government building and set himself on fire. Bouazizi’s act of opposition was immediately broadcasted through this city and sparked more protests. The protests spread through Tunisia and set off more protests in the Middle East, and this became the Arab Spring.

It is amazing that such a giant revolution was sparked by one desperate act in a rural town. This is because the social media network has allowed for information to be spread easily. The accessibility of communication methods has decreased the number of isolated societal groups, creating a large network where all individuals have access to up-to-date news and media. Through such the strongly-connected component that is the social media network, news can pass from a small town all the way to several countries.  As stated in an article, “communication methods such as satellite TV, the Internet, and mobile phones have stimulated change by providing the Middle East and North Africa region with unparalleled channels of discourse”.

In the past, information was mainly shared by newspapers or news stations, and a journalist or news reporter said something that was not allowed by the government, they were simply fired. Now with the use of mobiles phones, blogs, etc, government-unapproved information can be shared quickly and easily, and opposition parties can be efficiently organized without the government noticing.

In the case of the Arab Spring, “technology acted as an accelerant that allowed images to spread and fill the gap that mainstream media had left behind”.  For instance, 90% of all individuals in the countries affected by the Arab Spring have access to satellite TV, which played a huge role in broadcasting police brutality. Such a strongly connected network can spread information to even the most isolated groups. With the new knowledge and awareness, people can form their own opinions and act on them.

In the past few years, social media networks have grown tremendously, reaching even the remote cities. From the Arab Spring, we can see that this far outreach of information and decrease in isolated social groups can spur tremendous political changes. 

2 comments:

  1. Its true that technology shape us, it creates new behaviors for the users, both good and bad. On the other hand, we shape technology only by acknowledging it.

    Social Networks

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  2. Though 90% of individuals in Arab Spring countries do have satellite TV access, the role of social media in the uprisings is still a topic of some debate. Occidentalist Media recently wrote on a similar topic:

    http://occidentalistmedia.blogspot.com/2012/01/social-media-arab-twitter-feeds-to.html

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