The Social Media of the Egyptian Uprising
Across the world, many are wondering, what – after years of protest – finally gave Egyptians the ability to overthrow Mubarak? What gave this and other social movements in the Arab world the strength and cohesion to overcome decades of oppression? There really is no single answer. Some will argue that social media tools deserve the credit for the overthrow. More, however, will say that these tools in a vacuum could not produce the overthrow of a regime. These tools were no doubt incredibly influential, but the fact remains that without the passion, skill and intelligence of the protest organizers, nothing would have come to pass. It is more correct, then to say as Sahar Khamis and Katherine Vaughn do, that the uprising “was characterized by instrumental use of social media” rather than caused by it (2011). The answer lies somewhere in between the two extremes
This site is rich in resources and information, but it can be a little overwhelming to dive right into that. Here is a guide to what I found during this project and where you can read about it.
Going to the topics page allows you to see all the analysis I did laid out into separate articles. When I started working on this website, I was interested in all types of social media, so I conducted more general analysis.
I found that Twitter, Facebook and YouTube forced some limitations on users in Egypt. First, there was the language barrier. Those three sites were primarily run by English-speaking actors and designed for English-speaking users. In my post on language, you learn more about what that meant for users.
Another problem was the sites’ Western origins. I challenge readers to further study what effect that might have on Egypt and its movement, but in the context of post-colonial Egypt, this post notes some of the flaws associated with using tools designed in America.
Halfway through my research Twitter demonstrated how its roots in a capitalist, profit-driven society could be problematic for users when they announced their willingness and capability to work with dictators to censor tweets in certain countries. I wrote about this in a separate post.
Though I have studied Egypt, Arabic and Maghreb history, I am a journalist by trade, so the aspects of social media as a new way to convey and conduct the news fascinated me. I found that social media affected the news media in three main ways.
First, it acted as dissident media, giving a voice to the voiceless. My post on that discussed how dissident media has spurred revolutions throughout history, though I shy away from calling what happened in Egypt a revolution, because I believe significant regime change is still to come there.
Social media allowed for what’s called “citizen journalism,” or news transmission that comes directly from an eyewitness to the public without a professional entity to filter it. I found this had both benefits and drawbacks; visual media posed its own set of challenges based on its nature.
Finally, foreign media used Twitter within Egypt and tweets coming out of Egypt in new and significant ways. This post looks at how journalists interacted with Twitter at a time when budgets for foreign reporting were low and editors wanted content quickly. My methodology for this explains what articles I chose to include in this analysis.
Beyond media, my final analysis looked at Twitter’s role and Twitter’s potential in terms of facilitating social movements, which community organization sociologist Jonathan Christiansen defines as “organized yet informal social entities that are engaged in extra-institutional conflict that is oriented towards a goal.” I describe how Twitter fits with traditional theories and where it falls short. Another post ties it all together, saying why Twitter really matters, even if it is not inherently democratic or a one-way ticket to overthrowing a dictator. As I say in that post, the culmination of my work as led me to believe that Twitter was used to a degree during the Egyptian uprising to solidify the movement, but it could be used more effectively in future movements. The interviews I conducted helped me understand that; watching them allows viewers to get a sense of the complexity and personal nature of the issues at hand.
In addition to the analysis, the site offers some resources to help users get started tweeting and following as well. If you do join Twitter – or if you already have an account – be sure to follow this site @TweetingEgypt to find out what’s new here and see updates on Egypt.
Since it was created in November 2011, Tweeting Egypt has been viewed 802 times, as of Sunday, April 29, 2012. It’s busiest month was April 2012, perhaps because that is when I began promoting it on Facebook using an event. Prior to that time, I only used Twitter, word of mouth and the occasional Facebook status update to publicize it. The above graph came from WordPress, the hosting site that automatically tracks what are called “analytics” for the site.