Social media made Arab Spring easier, says university article


Social media made it easier for government opponents in Egypt and Tunisia to mobilize mass support during protests in late 2010 and 2011 that became known as the Arab Spring, says a paper spearheaded by Australian academics.

But social media wasn't the proximal cause for the fall of regimes in North African countries, nor did social media create the challenges the Arab Spring was to those governments, says the paper, to be published in Political Psychology.

Had dissent "remained in the domain of social media then the targeted regimes would [likely] still be in place," the paper says. Its chief author is Craig McGarty, director of the Perth-based Murdoch University's Centre for Social and Community Research.

The effect of social media was to permit regime opponents to perceive themselves as a coherent social group, a vital element in the formation of mass movements, the paper says. Communication media like text messages or email may seem like clumsy tools for fomenting revolution, it adds, since they lack nonverbal cues humans use to gauge the sincerity of communication. But, if people are already predisposed to agree with each other, the lack of those cues diminishes in importance. Social media also permits rapid diffusion of information, and the anonymity made possible by it can even help bolster group unity through immersion into a group.

A key factor in the protests was their self-alignment with national identity, the paper also says. Opposition movements face the problem of being considered disloyal, but national flags quickly proliferated among protestors. Arab Spring videos uploaded onto YouTube quickly made use of national symbols and songs, the paper notes, and footage captured from protests emphasize their presence.

Social media made it easier for protestors "to mobilize mass support for their cause through participation in street protests so that transformations that can take decades (as in South Africa) occurred in weeks," it concludes.

For more:
- go to a Murdoch University press release about the study

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