Social Media Helped the Arab Spring, but was a Means to an End

Wiebke Lamer, a PhD candidate at Old Dominion University, posted an article on the “Arab Media and Society” page entitled “Twitter and Tyrants: New Media and its Effects on Sovereignty in the Middle East,” which discusses the Western representation of Twitter, Facebook, and other sources of new media as the primary causes of the Arab Spring. Instead, Lamer posits that “the role of the media in the Arab Spring can primarily be defined as providing a tool, not the cause for the political movement” (Lamer, 2012). The Arab Spring can still be said to continue today given that the Syrian people are still engaged in a major struggle against the Assad government, but were this and the other major Middle Eastern revolutions truly started by social media, or merely propelled by it? Lamer says no, and it would seem that she is correct.

Lamer discusses in-depth the effects of al-Jazeera, the spread of cell phones, and the assistance of Western states in providing unfiltered access to the internet. Lamer is quick to establish that new media’s effects were two-fold – allow information to get out, and to allow it to get in. This in turn gave people a reason to gather in opposition to their governments, and the tools to help them organize and spread knowledge of their cause without government intervention. Practically speaking, Lamer is accurate in her assertions. The sentiments that caused the people of Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria to overthrow their governments, and those of Bahrain and Jordan to come out in protest of domestic policy, were inherent and hardly caused by new media, one need only look at past revolutions to see that. The concept of overthrowing an oppressive government is hardly uniquely American, and is also not uniquely Egyptian/Libyan/Syrian, et cetera. The new media has primarily enabled the process to be much quicker and in some cases better organized, but the causation of the Arab Spring can hardly be attributed to it.



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