Social Media and Protest Mobilization: Evidence from the Tunisian Revolution
4th European Communuication Conferece for the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA) Istanbul, Turkey, October 24-27, 2012
37 Pages Posted: 23 Nov 2012
Date Written: August 22, 2012
One of the hallmarks of the Arab Spring uprisings has been the role of social media in articulating demands of the popular protesters and broadcasting dramatic events as they unfolded, but it is less clear whether social media acted as a catalyst for many of the movements in the region. Using evidence from the popular protests in Tunisia between December 2010 and January 2011, this paper argues that social media acted as an important resource for popular mobilization against the regime of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Drawing on the insights from ‘resource mobilization theory’ (RMT), we show that social media (1) allowed a ‘digital elite’ to break the national media blackout through brokering information for mainstream media; (2) provided the basis for intergroup collaboration that facilitated a large ‘cycle of protest’ to develop; (3) overcame the collective action problem through reporting event magnitudes that raised the perception of success for potential free riders, and (4) led to an additional element of ‘emotional mobilization’ through depicting the worst atrocities associated with the regime’s response to the protests. These findings are based on expert interviews with Tunisian bloggers and digital activists conducted in October 2011 and a revealed preference survey conducted among a sample of Tunisian internet users between February and May 2012.
Keywords: social media, resource mobilization, digital activism, Tunisian Revolution
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