Are we giving Social Media too much credit for the Middle Eastern uprising?

28 Feb

Ian Kearney

@IanKearney

You may have read my colleague Georgina’s thought provoking piece on social networking and the fight for democracy in the Middle East. Yes undoubtedly social networks have and are still playing a part in rousing a lust for democracy, bringing repressed revolutionaries together and letting the world know what’s happening, but are we giving them more credit than they deserve?

Perhaps I’m being cynical or maybe I’m just plain wrong but it is important to question these things. Just because the mass media has given us the perception that Social Media played a huge role in the Middle Eastern uprising it doesn’t mean we should consider it fact without further thought.

Consider this, soon after the Egyptian uprising began the internet was shut down. This didn’t stop the growth of the protests, in fact we sat there day by day watching the masses grow.

How many people even have social networking accounts in these countries? The relevant Twitter statistics are not available but according to Facebook Statistic website SocialBakers;

  • Egypt has: 5 651 080 users and has had a 10% rise in the number of new accounts in the last month.
  • Tunisia has: 2 201 780 users and has had an 8% rise in the number of new accounts in the last month.
  • Libya has: 305 420 users and has had a 16% rise in the number of new accounts in the last month.

As we can see all three countries have had a notable rise in the number of people signing up to Facebook but if we look at the numbers as a percentage of their overall population the picture is a little different.

Only 4% of Libyans have Facebook accounts, 7% of Egyptians and 21% of Tunisians.

Looking at these figures, do the social networks have enough reach in these countries to move an entire nation to revolt? Perhaps in Tunisia but as for Egypt and Libya I’m not so convinced.

Facebook Revolution

Revolutions have been happening throughout the ages and while social networks are a relatively new phenomenon, revolutions are not.

To quote Peter Preston on his recent article in The Guardian, Twitter is no substitute for proper war reporting – just look at Libya;

“Lenin, Fidel Castro and Ayatollah Khomeini all managed to stage revolutions in the age before Twitter. The Soviet Union collapsed while Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook was still in short pants. So, just possibly, some of the credit for freedom’s wave as it washes around the Middle East belongs more to ordinary human beings standing together than to a tide of tweets.”

Would these revolutions have happened without social networks? Yes, of course they would. Would the world have gotten a similar insight, perhaps not.

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3 Responses to “Are we giving Social Media too much credit for the Middle Eastern uprising?”

  1. Paul Bradshaw March 1, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

    Good to see you drawing on some good solid facts for the piece. I’m also tired of the technologically determinist narrative of coverage of these revolutions: it’s very much ‘as seen through Western eyes’. How many stories led on the rising price of food? Or was that just too factual to make a ‘story’?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Libya: Partisan coverage from mainstream media « meandsocialmedia - March 6, 2011

    […] Ian and Georgie have argued in turn, social media has had some part to play in what’s going on in […]

  2. The Dark Side of Social Media: How the Internet Can Hurt Revolutionaries « meandsocialmedia - March 24, 2011

    […] Libya, the topic of social media and the revolutions in the Middle East has spread from Georgie to Ian to Caroline, and now to me. As the title suggests, I’m going to look at the third view on […]

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