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The Arab Spring, Social Media & Al Jazeera

The Arab Spring, Social Media & Al Jazeera

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Published by AlanFisher1
This is a chapter in a book 'MIRAGE IN THE DESERT? REPORTING THE ARAB SPRING', edited by John Mair and Richard Lance Keeble and to be published on 11th October 2011
Publisher:Arima .Abramis Academic Publishing Bury St Edmunds
This is a chapter in a book 'MIRAGE IN THE DESERT? REPORTING THE ARAB SPRING', edited by John Mair and Richard Lance Keeble and to be published on 11th October 2011
Publisher:Arima .Abramis Academic Publishing Bury St Edmunds

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: AlanFisher1 on Sep 11, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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12/02/2012

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The Arab Spring, Social Media and AlJazeera
Alan Fisher, Senior Correspondent at Al Jazeera, argues that the social media are bothtransforming the media landscape – and playing a crucial role in changing the world. Atthe same time he stresses: “The changes in Tunisia and Egypt were not driven bytechnology. These were revolutions driven by the people”Introduction
 
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The dramatic events of the “Arab Spring”, the mobilisation of calls for democratic change acrossthe Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are still unfolding. At the time of writing, summer isalmost over and the winter beckons. Yet people are still protesting on the streets of Bahrain,Yemen, Syria and Jordan. In the squares of Cairo, people insist the Egyptian revolution remainsunfinished.Many governments in the West were caught out by the pace of developments in the first monthsof 2011 and found themselves desperately scrambling to catch up to public opinion. In an effortto provide instant interpretation, much of the media found itself also struggling to explain whatappeared to be sudden and dramatic changes. That, as Cottle suggests, is perhaps anacknowledgement of failure. He maintains that the Western media was guilty of refusing toreport on the…….everyday suppression of political dissent, human rights abuses and earlier emergent protests whilst uncritically reporting on their own government’s trade and arms initiativesand conciliatory diplomatic relations bolstering such regimes in power. If Western mediahad performed a more independent and critically engaged role, is it conceivable that theArab uprisings of 2011, though surprising in terms of their speed and scale, couldnonetheless have been better understood and contextualised within a preceding narrative of growing political disenchantment and despair? (p. 650)
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 And so the myth of the social media revolutions was born.The idea that Facebook or Twitter or similar social media networks operated as the main agent of social change is to adopt a technological determinist position or in Marshall McLuhan’s famous phrase to accept “the medium is the message” where technology is considered an independent
 
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factor which draws its own consequences.
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Yet this diminishes the political and social elementsat work and overlooks the most fundamental element of the “Arab Spring”. The changes inTunisia and Egypt were not driven by technology. These were revolutions driven by the people.It is important, therefore, not to overstate the role of social media in the changes that have beenachieved, the protests that continue. While Zakaria acknowledges “technology – satellitetelevision, computers, mobile phones and the internet – has played a powerful role in informing,educating and connecting people in the region. Such advances empower individuals anddisempower the state”,
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 Haseeb believes the technology has gone one step further thanempowering by “initiating and igniting these events” (p. 117).
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 The development of new mediacultures meant that what had once been done face-to-face has been effectively appropriated andaligned to assist contemporary revolutionary movements, yet the driving force remained anaccumulation gathered over several years of disenfranchisement, of impotence to confront andchallenge the ruling elites who were considered venal and corrupt.
First e-revolution – in the Philippines
Modern media tools have been used in the past to provoke regime change. The first e-revolutionwas 20 years ago. Accused of corruption, President Joseph Estrada of the Philippines refused tostep down. In a country where text messaging was hugely popular, people took to their phones to begin the fight. Texters urged supporters to “Wear black to mourn the death of democracy” andcalled for one million people to meet outside the presidency and protest. They did, in anoverwhelming and peaceful show of dissent.In echoes of what was to come in 2011, the President appeared on TV first to announce he wouldnot resign, and then to call fresh elections in which he would not stand. The military and the police sided with the people and withdrew their support. Four days after the first texts were sent,

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