Information Studies

Social media’s inability to bring representative government to the Arab World

     Modern information technology made it possible for most of the world to witness events within the Arab Spring.  Social media allowed activists to organize instantaneously within protests in Arab cities.  The internet became a public forum to discuss economics and alternatives in the Arab World.  Overall, it seemed like information technology worked to the benefit of Arab Spring activists.  However, due to a lack of organizational strategy and an absence of leaders, social media ultimately weakened the desired, future prospects of representative government in the Arab World.

    Social media provides no room for any kind of activist to deeply strategize in an organized manner.  It is not possible to achieve societal change solely through social media networks.  Social networks are designed primarily for the purposes of networking, and networking does not perform a good job when it comes to planning strategies.  Structured strategies in social activism, like the strategies of Gandhi (marches, boycotts, civil disobedience) and Martin Luther King Jr. (legislation outreach, speeches, and more boycotts), are more effective for social activists to reach their goals.  Furthermore, through strategies, activists can portray consistent, and thus effective messages about the problem in question.  One big problem that social media creates for activists and journalists alike is the inconsistency and bias behind the collective communication presented by activists for a certain cause.  Ramesh Srinivasan, a professor of Information Studies at UCLA, witnessed such a phenomenon during the 2011 anti-Mubarak Egyptian protests.  Srinivasan surveyed the front and back lines of protests crowds at Tahrir Square.  The front lines were filled with people actively protesting and assisting other protestors at the scene, and the back lines included young, tech-savvy individuals who were fervently tweeting about what was going on at the entire protest camp.  The tweets consisted of exaggerated, biased information; tweets regarding shots fired, police attacks, and number of deaths were usually untrue or slightly incorrect.  The tweeting individuals wanted to grab the attention of their friends, their connections, and, ultimately, mainstream media, through these definably illegitimate pieces of information.  Similar scenarios occurred in Istanbul’s Gezi Park protests, New York’s Occupy Wall Street protests, and Jordan’s anti-government protests.  Such false information tends to weaken the credibility of these activist movements, and they thus end up providing more points for regimes, bureaucracies, and targeted organizations to utilize against the activists that they are defending themselves against.  Just imagine if the Montgomery boycott, spearheaded by Martin Luther King Jr., was organized via facebook.  The boycott would easily lose its credibility if one person, for example, attempted to strengthen the cause by claiming online that he/she was attacked while trying to board the bus.  Reactions would ensue.  People’s attentions would diverge.  Government officials would investigate and most likely find either no or false information to back up such claims.  Overall, the entire boycott would fail.  Thus, since strategy is required to make impactful changes in society, you cannot achieve desirable, effective change by depending on social media platforms for organization and communication.

    Revolutions, effective social justice campaigns, and awareness campaigns yield optimal results when they are performed under hierarchal systems of organization, professionalism, and ideology.  Throughout history, without the existence of the Internet, effective social movements existed because of leaders.  The American Revolution was effective because the entire revolution can be characterized as a battle between two hierarchical entities – the American army and British Army, each outfitted with bureaucratic and political leaders.  The Islamic Revolution of 1979 was spearheaded by an effective leader by the name of Ayatollah Khomeini.  Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008 would not have been possible without hierarchical, representative administration.  None of these events, which started off as grass-roots events, utilized social media extensively.  In fact, Turkey’s Gezi Park protesters reached a compromise with the Turkish government once an effective, hierarchical organization, consisting of lawyers and journalists, by the name of “Taksim Square Group”, facilitated discussion with the Turkish Supreme Court and the Turkish Parliament.  Based off of all these events, an effective movement is one that has leaders that can represent people’s demands.  Social media platforms do not allow this scenario to happen.  Egypt’s 2011 and 2013 Tahrir Square protests, with much of its fuel coming from mainstream media, had no leader to be identified by.  Furthermore, the Muslim Brotherhood, a hierarchal organization, made the biggest difference in challenging Mubarak’s regime and, subsequently, won the 2012 national elections.  Upon Morsi’s overthrow in 2013, the only remaining hierarchical power entity, the Egyptian military, obtained political power in Egypt, and today, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the head of Egypt’s armed forces, has expressed wishes to run for president.  Social media functions only as a networking tool, not a hierarchal one that fosters professionalism and leadership.  Tasks, goals, and arbitrary decision-making cannot be accomplished solely through information technology. , for information technology does not give rise to a notable, capable leader.  Since everyone is pitching in their opinions, demanding their individual voices to be heard, and, usually, failing to find ways to best represent the views of the people around them, social media in this regard has failed to foster representative government institutions in the Arab World.  If Egypt’s protests had a leader, a representative government may have resulted.  If Turkey’s Gezi Park Protests yielded a comprehensive political party to challenge the current-ruling Justice and Development Party, there would have been better chances for the protesters’ aspirations to to be satisfied.  Today, if Syrians, who are in the middle of their own revolution , decide to trust an authority figure to represent their views and their troubles, we would not have mainstream media, politicians, and Syrians themselves view the Syrian conflict as a massive, messy battle between factions that have their own agendas.  Just imagine if such a scenario were to occur in the American Revolution, where different factions within the United States would fight for their own interests and thus possess less power in obtaining their interests.  What was done right in the American Revolution was that different Europeans, different Americans, different New Englanders, different Virginians, and different Southerners united under one American flag to fight for independence.

    Despite the effectiveness of social media garnering attention and needed resources towards the events of the Arab Spring, social media has failed to provide a platform for Arab nations to adopt representative governments.  Since social media does not provide avenues for protesters and administrators to strategize for large events, key motivations and goals are hard to achieve if platforms like Facebook and Twitter, no matter how cleverly used, are majorly depended on.  Moreover, since social media only provides tools for networking, and not tools to create hierarchal, efficient, and professional organizations, social media is obsolete when it comes to satisfying aspirations for major changes in any arena, be it political, societal, or cultural.

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