Were the Arab Revolts ‘Social Media Revolutions’?

The Impact of the Global Digitisation on Mass Mobilisations

Essay, 2014

10 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of contents


2.Theoretical Framework

3.The Use of Social Media during the Revolts
3.1. Egypt
3.2. Bahrain

4.Weak Networks and Western Views



1. Introduction

Although clearly the number of news pieces and scholarly articles that discard the applicability of the term “Social media revolution” on the Arab revolts exceeds the number of articles that openly apply the term, the question of the role of social media during the uprisings is of great importance if it comes to gaining a holistic image of the happenings in 2011. Statements as for example “this has been a social media revolt, both in the mobilisation of middle class intellectuals via Facebook and Twitter and in the gathering and distribution of detailed information about what was happening on the ground” by George Brock (2011) however {Brock, 2011 #1}give raise to the question if identifying the mean and venue of the revolts is this easy or if the role of social media is actually more complex and embedded into a network of other “revolt-fostering” elements.

This essay aims at analysing the impact of globalisation on the Arab Revolts. It does so by focussing on one of the most influential outgrowths of globalisation: the digital revolution and the thereof resulting emergence of social media. Instead of carrying out a general approach the analysis will focus on two selected countries, namely Egypt and Bahrain. Although trying to find an answer to the well known question if the Arab revolts were or weren’t a social media revolution the present paper tries to concretise this initial question in splitting it into sub-question which reflect the three possible meanings it implies: First, did the Arab revolts start in social media? Second, was social media a means to the end for the Arab revolts? Last, was social media the main venue of the revolts?

The role of social media in the Arab revolts has been widely discussed both by scholars and in the global press. However, especially in the media, it remains unclear what exactly is understood under the term “Facebook or social media revolution”. Academic articles with clear approaches are Sahar Khamis’, Paul B. Gold’s and Katherine Vaughn’s ‘Beyond Egypt’s “Facebook Revolution” and Syria’s “YouTube Uprising”’, published in 2012 as well as the chapter ‘Auslöser und Akteure der Veränderung’ in Volker Perthes’ Der Aufstand: Die arabische Revolution und ihre Folgen[1] published in 2011 . Well elaborated news pieces are amongst others ‘Spring Awakening’ published in the New York Times by Jose A. Vargas in February 2012, which focuses on the events in Egypt and Maryam Ishani’s article ‘The hopeful network’, published in February 2011 in Foreign Policy.

This essay is divided into five sections. To being able to have a clear and comprehensible argumentation, the connection between social media and political contestation will be accessed briefly in a theoretical way in the second section, which will serve as a theoretical framework for the further analysis. In section number three the actual use of social media in the selected countries will be illustrated. Section four represents the main body of this essay where the analysis is conducted. The conclusion and presentation of the finding as well as the answer to the essay question will be displayed in section number five.

2. Theoretical Framework

Social media is understood as an outcome of the rapid internet development of the last ten years. In their article ‘Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media’ Andreas M. Kaplan and Michael Haenlein define social media as “a group of Internet-based applications” which bring together the concepts of Web 2.0 – the technological advancements necessary - and User Generated Content (UGC) – the public non-professional digital expressions of end-users (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010: 61). The rapid growth of high-speed internet availability contributed to the emergence of social media. Most famous among them are Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Wikipedia, flickr and YouTube, each providing the bottom up and consumer oriented character of the phenomenon (Smith, 2009: 559).

Having reached the everyday life of internet users, it is unsurprising that social media not only absorbs but engages and interacts with political happenings worldwide. Recent revolts and uprisings as for example 2004 in Ukraine or 2009 in Iran and Moldova in whose course the internet was heavily employed, boosted the research in the field of the interface of internet and revolution (Lysenko and Desouza, 2010). Nahed Eltantawy and Julie B. Wiest developed a modified model of the resource mobilisation theory, which will serve as a starting point for this essay’s approach.

The resource mobilisation theory developed in the 1970s from the studies of collective action (McCarthy and Zald, 1977, Tilly, 1978). In contrast to many social movement theories it recognises the importance of external influences. Resources, “such as time, money, organizational skills, and certain social or political opportunities” are considered to be decisive for the beginning and outcome of a revolution (Eltantawy and Wiest, 2011: 1209). If citizens are able to employ them in specific ways, a revolution is not only more likely to happen but also more likely to be successful. Eltantawy and Wiest consider social media to be an important new resource for collective action, through its ubiquitous, rapid, connecting and outreaching character which does not only add to the conventional listed resources, but does enlarge and replace certain resources (Eltantawy and Wiest, 2011: 1218).

Although adapted to modernity, the resource mobilisation theory lacks of explaining internal factors, such as psychological and interpersonal ones (Jenkins, 1983, Shin, 1994, Walsh, 1981). The author of the present essay therefore extends the theory with the idea of high risk/cost activism which contains the concept of “ideological identification with the values of the campaign” which was developed by Doug McAdam. McAdam argues that the stronger the personal relationship between those citizens that already protest and their yet undecided friends or family members is, the higher the likelihood as well as determination for the latter to expose themselves to the risk of protesting (McAdam, 1986: 87).

The analysis in section four will consider and utilise the modified resource mobilisation theory with the extension of the concept of ideological identification. Hence, three deductions can be drawn: First, on an external level, certain resources must be available and used by citizens. Second, a strong personal relationship between the protesting citizens must exist. Third, the role of social media interferes with both approaches: On the one hand as a resource which is utilised to initiate and sustain the revolution and on the other hand in helping to establish relationships between citizens.


[1] Translation from German: Triggers and actors of change. The uprising: the Arab revolutions and their consequences.

Excerpt out of 10 pages


Were the Arab Revolts ‘Social Media Revolutions’?
The Impact of the Global Digitisation on Mass Mobilisations
School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Note waren 68 Punkte im Britischen System. Das entspricht einem 2:1 und in Deutschland ca. einer 1,7
were, arab, revolts, media, revolutions’, impact, global, digitisation, mass, mobilisations
Quote paper
Johanna Schell (Author), 2014, Were the Arab Revolts ‘Social Media Revolutions’?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/279554


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