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Opening Closed Regimes: What Was the Role of Social Media During the Arab Spring?

30 Pages Posted: 17 Apr 2015 Last revised: 5 Sep 2015

Philip N. Howard

University of Washington - Department of Communication; University of Washington - Henry. M. Jackson School of International Studies; University of Washington - The Information School; University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute; University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute

Aiden Duffy

University of Washington

Deen Freelon

American University

Muzammil M. Hussain

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

Will Mari

University of Washington

Marwa Maziad

University of Washington - College of Arts and Sciences

Date Written: 2011

Abstract

Social media played a central role in shaping political debates in the Arab Spring. A spike in online revolutionary conversations often preceded major events on the ground. Social media helped spread democratic ideas across international borders.

No one could have predicted that Mohammed Bouazizi would play a role in unleashing a wave of protest for democracy in the Arab world. Yet, after the young vegetable merchant stepped in front of a municipal building in Tunisia and set himself on fire in protest of the government on December 17, 2010, democratic fervor spread across North Africa and the Middle East.

Governments in Tunisia and Egypt soon fell, civil war broke out in Libya, and protestors took to the streets in Algeria, Morocco, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere. The Arab Spring had many causes. One of these sources was social media and its power to put a human face on political oppression. Bouazizi’s self-immolation was one of several stories told and retold on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube in ways that inspired dissidents to organize protests, criticize their governments, and spread ideas about democracy. Until now, most of what we have known about the role of social media in the Arab Spring has been anecdotal.

Focused mainly on Tunisia and Egypt, this research included creating a unique database of information collected from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. The research also included creating maps of important Egyptian political websites, examining political conversations in the Tunisian blogosphere, analyzing more than 3 million Tweets based on keywords used, and tracking which countries thousands of individuals tweeted from during the revolutions. The result is that for the first time we have evidence confirming social media’s critical role in the Arab Spring.

Keywords: social media, arab world, political conversations, arab spring

Suggested Citation

Howard, Philip N. and Duffy, Aiden and Freelon, Deen and Hussain, Muzammil M. and Mari, Will and Maziad, Marwa, Opening Closed Regimes: What Was the Role of Social Media During the Arab Spring? (2011). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2595096 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2595096

Philip Howard (Contact Author)

University of Washington - Department of Communication ( email )

Seattle, WA 98195
United States
2062216532 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.philhoward.org

University of Washington - Henry. M. Jackson School of International Studies ( email )

Seattle, WA
United States

University of Washington - The Information School ( email )

Box 353350
Seattle, WA 98195
United States

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute ( email )

1 St. Giles
University of Oxford
Oxford OX1 3PG Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute ( email )

1 St. Giles
University of Oxford
Oxford OX1 3PG Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom

Aiden Duffy

University of Washington ( email )

Seattle, WA 98195
United States

Deen Freelon

American University ( email )

No Address Available

Muzammil Hussain

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor ( email )

500 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

Will Mari

University of Washington

Seattle, WA 98195
United States

Marwa Maziad

University of Washington - College of Arts and Sciences ( email )

Seattle, WA
United States

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