The Triple Role of Social Media: A Case Study

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 11:00 AM
Room: 315
Oral Presentation
Theodor TUDOROIU , Department of Behavioural Sciences, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago
The Arab Spring's 'Facebook dimension' has already received unprecedented attention. New technology was presented as an instrument used by protesters to build extensive networks, create social capital, organize political action locally and nationally, and put in place transnational links. A debate ensued between the views of 'cyber-enthusiasts' and those of 'cyber-skeptics' (or 'digital evangelists' and 'techno-realists'). A common element, however, is that very little of this research integrates political variables into its analysis. Moreover, the literature provides a rather fragmented picture of this complex phenomenon, with many scholars focusing on relatively narrow social media-related sub-fields. The present paper tries to overcome this division. Its goal is twofold. First, it argues that the full understanding of the impact of social media on Arab Spring regime change processes is possible only through the analysis of the key role played by this media at three interrelated levels that, until now, seldom have been studied together: as a tactical tool of mobilization, communication, and coordination; as an instrument of domestic and international revolutionary contagion; and, critically, as a means of enhancing pan-Arab consciousness which, in turn, was fertile soil for that contagion. The paper's second goal is to strongly anchor the analysis of social media in the political - and, more specifically, revolutionary - dimension of the Arab Spring. Social media may have been highly influential from many points of view. Still, one should not forget that the Middle Eastern process it influenced was fundamentally a revolutionary wave. As such, the role of social media needs to be addressed within the analytical framework of revolutionary contagion, which until now rarely has been done explicitly.