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-II
Online crowd dynamics mimic offline crowd dynamics. In Egypt people shared a yearning to oust Hosni Mubarak, but each person was afraid to step forward. Once they saw how many other Egyptians agreed with them, they grew bolder. In Tunisia, according to exiled blogger-activist Sami Ben Gharbia, the government blocked YouTube and Flickr but didn't block Facebook because too many Tunisians had already gathered there, and cutting them off seemed too risky. As a result, more Tunisians converged at Facebook, which became the hub for mobilizing the rebellion. – Trade Arabia
The state of the Internet and telecom infrastructure in the successful Arab Spring countries:
An interesting trend is the use of Internet usage during the first quarter of 2011 when the Arab Spring started spreading. According to an Arab Social Media Report, the Arab world saw an increase of 30 per cent users taking the Facebook users count to 27.7 million during the first quarter of 2011. 1.1 million Twitter users tweeted 27.7 million tweets during the same period. The report said the social media registered fastest growth in countries witnessing political unrest.
Tunisia where the Jasmine revolution started getting its fervour, boasted one of the most advanced telecommunication infrastructure (as high as over 100 per cent penetration rate), lowest broadband prices and significant 3G coverage in North Africa. According to the ‘Internet World Stats’, Tunisia had 3,600,000 Internet users as of March 2010, i.e., 33.9 per cent of the population as per the ATI (Tunisian Internet Agency) while the Facebook penetration was 24.5 per cent in June 2011 with 2,602,640 Facebook users.
The Internet penetration of Tunisia compares well with world average of 30.2 per cent. And when this significantly large section of the population started expressing its anger, it soon caught up with the people on the street in a country where ‘the nation's unemployment rate was about 14 per cent, and about 30 per cent of those without work were between age 15 and 29.’ It was too late for Ben Ali when he realized this spread and started cracking down on Internet access in the country. But as we all know it didn’t help and the history was created.
Egypt is the same story with ‘April 6 Youth Movement’ when a Facebook campaign by the Opposition to gather for protests generated tens of thousands of feedbacks and calls to oust the government. “Over the past decade, fast scalable real-time Internet-based information and communication tools have become relatively accessible in Egypt (with broadband access starting at $8/month). According to the Egyptian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT), the country has over 17 million Internet users (as of February 2010), a stark 3,691 per cent increase from 450,000 users in December 2000, and 4 million Facebook users. This total includes over 160,000 bloggers, with 30 percent of blogs focusing on politics.” – says an analytical report on the Arab Spring.
YouTube videos have been the main access points for the global community to keep abreast of the brutal oppression in Syria. In Syria, where Internet reaches to the 19.8 per cent of the population according to the ‘Internet World Stats’, the Syrian government started cracking down on usage of Facebook, Youtube and Twitter after the Egypt revolution but unlike the Egypt, the Syrian government is also using the indirect means like turning off the electricity and phone lines in areas of unrest while at the same time using the Internet to take on and discredit the dissidents.
In Contrast, in Bahrain, where internet penetration is as high as over 55 per cent, the protests, that have seen brutal suppression by the regime, have been kept alive by citizen journalists and the social media. Traditional media is clamped down since the unrest began in February 2011 demanding the end of monarchy and rule of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. Internet user penetration in Bahrain rose from a paltry 6.25 per cent in 2000 to 55.52 per cent in 2009 while according to the Internet World Stats, the country had 23.6 per cent of Facebook users penetration according to the latest information available.
Libya and Yemen are countries among the nations with lowest level of the Internet penetration. Libya saw Muammar Gaddafi killed in a protracted bloody civil war led by an armed Opposition and assisted by the NATO. Yemen had half-baked power transition.
Had it been a case of significant coverage of the social media in these countries, the protest movements would have been on a much larger scale with better outcomes. Active participation of the social media in the revolution expedited the events in Tunisia and Egypt while it lingered on in Libya before precipitating and still lingering on in Yemen, Syria and Bahrain.