With thanks to Twitter and Facebook
The Arab world will not owe its democratisation to Twitter or Facebook, butsocial media played a promising role.
We all agree that the rebellions in Tunisia and Egypt would have occurred even without social media. The heart of the matter is still the reality of populations that have been oppressed for many years. Yet the impact of media such as Facebook and Twitter should not be underestimated, since they certainly played a significant role. (see also: The (jasmine) revolution will be tweeted)
For example: a unique form of empathy for the rebels was generated via Twitter. All over the world people were communicating about the rebellion, whereas in the past you only got the news from your immediate surroundings or via the traditional mass media. The empathy which is created also feeds back via the social media themselves to the rebels in the countries involved. This gives them a feeling of international support and encourages them to continue. E.g.: a promising speech by President Obama would certainly reach the rebels, even if the dictatorship dominates the local media. A few years ago this was unimaginable.
For the rest of the world as well it is useful to follow the rebellion via social media. In the past, international journalists were limited in their options. These days, thousands of people in the streets have become live reporters of the events, all of them armed with mobile phones, often with built-in cameras. Iran was one of the first countries to experience this, during the 2009 rebellion in that country.
And finally, the people also communicate amongst themselves via social media. The rebels keep one another informed. In Tunisia television is largely controlled by the government, but via Facebook the news spread rapidly throughout the country, as a result of which more and more people joined the demonstrations. Belgium was also confronted with that mobilising role of social media during the most recent government demonstration: by intelligently using Facebook, 5 people managed to getmore than 34,000 people to show up. In Egypt and Tunisia people are continuously keeping each other posted about the rebellion. Everyone knows what is happening in the different villages. This massive flow of news and updates ensures an unparalleled participation of people all over the country. In Tunisia this finally resulted in a change of power. Therefore it is no coincidence that the authorities tried to shut down the Internet in Egypt when the turmoil began.
Demonstrations and rebellions will never again be what they once were. Street protests will be reinforced by new media. Live reports from the streets will be broadcasted in real time through the personal networks of all demonstrators. Influencing and manipulating public opinion via controlled channels will become more difficult, if not impossible.