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Role of social media in recent Arab revolts

Chennai: The world media is abuzz with the ongoing agitations in Arab world against dictatorial regimes. @CNN in TTwitter has declared that current revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and currently Libya are #TTwitter revolutions. With this a great debate is raging in the TTwitter zone whether these movements can be called social media revolutions or human revolutions.

Background
Effect of efficient coordination between people through instant text messaging through cell phones was felt for the first time in the Orange Revolution of Ukraine in 2004. This ability to follow one another in real time helped Ukrainians in better coordination of their protests. Twitter takes this concept further by allowing people to be in touch with one another without the limitations of text messaging from a cellphone by providing a realtime stream visible to all users.. With this there is a greater scope for coordination between people struggling for the same cause, even those who did not know each other previously.

With the advent of TTwitter, analysts were predicting successful agitations even in smaller countries with poor internet penetration like Moldova. Tunisia was the first successful case of a Twitter revolution. In a civil resistance movement, in Jan 2011, dubbed as Jasmine Revolution, thousands of people gathered together in daily street protests which finally ensured ousting of President Ben Ali. He ruled Tunisia from 1987 till his ouster.

Spillover Effect of Jasmine revolution
Jasmine Revolution had its spillover effect on many neighboring countries. The Egyptian revolution began, with inspiration from Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, and resulted in the ousting of Egypt’s longtime President Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011. Facebook was extensively utilized in Egypt’s ‘Revolution.2’. Furthermore, protests have also taken place in Algeria, Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain Libya, Morocco and Pakistan. As of today, pro-democracy protestors are at a decisive phase of agitation in Libya.

In the wake of these spreading agitations, totalitarian governments across the globe are taking preventive measures to ensure peace in their countries. Some rulers like Jordan’s King Abdullah have changed their governments. On the other hand, most other regimes have reacted with a ban/ restrictions on media in general and social media sites in particular. International media sites and analysts are abuzz with speculations on whether a certain country is ready for a Twitter revolution or not.

Critical voices
Though majority of the net users on Twitter, or otherwise, are appreciating the role of social media sites in pro-democracy agitations, there are few who have reservations. Franky Benítez in his article (on American media reports about agitations in Cuba) shows that we should not rely on these social media blindly without cross checking the facts.

Ulises Mejias, Assistant Professor of New Media in the Communication Studies Department at SUNY Oswego, says that his article is “…a thinly veiled attempt to point out how absurd it is to refer to events in Iran, Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere as the Twitter Revolution, the Facebook Revolution, and so on. What we call things, the names we use to identify them, has incredible symbolic power, and I, for one, refuse to associate corporate brands with struggles for human dignity.”

Ulises Mejias agrees with Jillian York, who says, “… I am glad that Tunisians were able to utilize social media to bring attention to their plight. But I will not dishonor the memory of Mohamed Bouazizi–or the 65 others that died on the streets for their cause–by dubbing this anything but a human revolution.”

He says: “rather than celebrating social media’s success we should acknowledge the real challenge, which is going to be figuring out how to continue the struggle after the network has been shut off. In fact, the struggle is going to be against those who own and control the network. If the fight can’t continue without Facebook and Twitter, then it is doomed. But I suspect the people of Iran, Tunisia and Egypt (unlike us) already know this, out of sheer necessity.”

With the success of these revolutions, there is also a growing debate that access to Internet tools like Twitter and Facebook should be declared as essential human rights. This may in a way ensure that these useful tools are available for everyone. But at present Twitter and Facebook are proving a boon for the oppressed masses around the world.

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