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Social media played a central role in shaping political debates in the Arab Spring. A spike in online revolutionary conversations oftenpreceded major events on the ground. Social media helped spreaddemocratic ideas across international borders.
No one could have predicted thatMohammed Bouazizi would play a rolein unleashing a wave of protest fordemocracy in the Arab world. Yet, after the young vegetable merchant steppedin front of a municipal building inTunisia and set himself on fire in protestof the government on December 17,2010, democratic fervor spread acrossNorth Africa and the Middle East.Governments in Tunisia and Egypt soonfell, civil war broke out in Libya, andprotestors took to the streets in Algeria,Morocco, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.The Arab Spring had many causes. Oneof these sources was social media andits power to put a human face onpolitical oppression. Bouazizis self immolation was one of several stories told and retold on Facebook, Twitter,and YouTube in ways that inspireddissidents to organize protests, criticize their governments, and spread ideasabout democracy. Until now, most of what we have known about the role of social media in the Arab Spring hasbeen anecdotal.Focused mainly on Tunisia and Egypt, this research included creating a uniquedatabase of information collected fromFacebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Theresearch also included creating maps of important Egyptian political Websites,examining political conversations in theTunisian blogosphere, analyzing more than 3 million Tweets based on key-words used, and tracking whichcountries thousands of individualsTweeted from during the revolutions.The result is that for the first time wehave evidence confirming socialmedias critical role in the Arab Spring.Our research has produced three keyfindings:
First, social media played a central rolein shaping political debates in the ArabSpring.
Our evidence shows that social mediawas used heavily to conduct politicalconversations by a key demographicgroup in the revolution young, urban,relatively well educated individuals,many of whom were women. Bothbefore and during the revolutions, theseindividuals used Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to put pressure on theirgovernments. In some cases, they usednew technologies in creative ways suchas in Tunisia where democracyadvocates embarrassed President ZineEl Abidine Ben Ali by streaming video of his wife using a government jet to makeexpensive shopping trips to Europe.Bloggers also used the Internet topublish information critical of thegovernments in Egypt and Tunisia. And