I wrote this write-up for a research journal during May 2012. I am now publishing it on my blog in parts.
2011 MASS UPRISINGS: SOCIAL MEDIA TRENDS - PART-VI
SO WHAT ACTUALLY THE INTERNET AND THE SOCIAL MEDIA DID?
Spiral of silence at work: The despots have been ruling for decades now and though the Petro Dollar has brought economic wealth to many of the Arab countries, masses remained devoid of the gain. Where Arab Spring succeeded in deposing the despots or in countries where mass uprisings are gaining momentum, whole countries were being run by the families of tyrants and their near and dear ones. It was like the days of the East India Company in India or the modern day North Korea where the common man was part of the wealth production process but was not entitled to own anything or raise any voice for his rights. The situation remains more or less same in most of the Arab countries. Those who thought otherwise and went on to express were incarcerated in jails, killed, and silenced forever. Arab Spring is about how this small group of people thinking otherwise and deciding to express their grievances increased manifold suddenly. The silence was brewing unrest.
But, the dramatic turn of events in the Arab Spring tells us how fast can be the precipitation of a minority opinion to become a majority view when it gets direct feedback and connect with other groups feeling to be living in the similar predicament. Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann describes the spiral of silence as a dynamic process, in which predictions about public opinion become fact as mass media's coverage of the majority opinion becomes the status quo, and the minority becomes less likely to speak out. Here there was no conventional mass media like television, newspapers or magazines to cover the happenings. Instead, these carriers were used by the State to promote the propaganda machinery of the dictators.
Helped by an existing technology infrastructure, new communication technologies like the Internet and mobile communication, powered with features of immediate feedback and response, played the role of mass media. They aided the conventional mass media stationed beyond the borders with continued updates coming mainly from the tweets. Many international publications like the Guardian, the Telegraph, Al Jazeera and the BBC had real time updates on their websites during the final crisis hours of Egypt and Libya mass uprisings running high on the updates of events as tweeted by the activists as well tweets and feed by the correspondents. It built international pressure that corresponded well to the mass upsurge at the ground – at least that we can say in cases like Egypt and Libya.
And the way this Arab Spring unfolded affected every other mass movement of 2011 – the Russian protests, the ‘Occupy’ movement and the ‘Jan Lokpal’ movement.
Russians, though willing to speak-out, thought who would speak before a formidable Putin. Indians, though victims of every day corruption, thought only fools could talk of honesty and anti-corruption movements. Global citizens, though living in the volatile paradise of market-controlled economies, thought it was their fate to see the hardships like recession and growing income disparity.
They knew they were wrong in thinking like that but didn’t know how to express themselves to demand the course-correction. They needed a platform to meet the like-minded. They needed a voice, though faceless. Once they got it, more and more of them came into the protest mode.
The underlying tenet behind such rapid mobilization of masses is the presence of long-kept feelings of unrest. When it found channels to vent out the anger; when people realized that they were not in minority, it was just the matter of time when the minority became the majority spiraling on the wave of activism where Internet was the ammunition store, and it came soon.