Bachelor Thesis, 2014
37 Pages, Grade: 1,3
2. Current State of Research
2.1 Protest Politics
2.1.1 The Traditional Approach
2.1.2 Advancement of the Traditional Approach
2.1.3 Modern Approaches
2.1.4 Rational Choice Theory
2.1.5 Resource Mobilization Theory
2.1.6 The Political Culture Approach
2.2 The New Media
2.2.1 Understanding New Media
2.2.2 Social Media and Protest
3. Method and Case Selection
4. Theoretical Foundation
5. Case descriptions and assessment
5.3 Reasons for Protest
5.4 The Role of Social Media
6. Transnational Effects of Social Media and the Contagion Thesis
Social media has revolutionized the way people connect and communicate with each other and is not only about liking cat videos on Facebook or tweeting the latest party updates. In fact, the access to social media platforms has been heavily restricted in certain regimes since authoritarian leaders are well aware of its power to connect the people and share information independently. Recently, the Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan jumped on the bandwagon of leaders trying to silence digital criticism by blocking all connections to the popular video sharing platform YouTube as well as the social network Twitter. On the other side, the contemporary use of social media is being widely studied within several scientific disciplines like business, communication or psychology. Since the Arab Spring the influence and political power of social media is subject to both public and scholarly debate. Prominent research projects are concerned with the study of the role of social media before and during uprisings and revolutions. Popular theses claim that social media has the political power to initiate and coordinate social uprisings and could even lead to a democratization of authoritarian regimes. Moreover, researchers have been trying to analyze various factors that could explain and predict future uprisings. Does social media play a decisive revolutionary role and is the fear of political change and democratization held by authoritarian leaders therefore justified?
Revolutionary action has been coordinated and brought to the streets by ordinary citizens decades before the invention of social media or the internet in general. The uprisings in Soviet territory in the late 1980s and early 1990s have shattered the world’s balance of power and led to a regime change of great magnitude. Fast forwarding to 2011, waves of protests swept the Arab region bringing down decade long-ruling authoritarian leaders in both Tunisia and Egypt. The initially small sparks of public disobedience lightened a massive fire that ignited protests in Bahrain, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Morocco, and Saudi-Arabia, reshaping the political sphere of the entire region. Forcing Tunisian president Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to lay down their office many protestors hoped for a quick democratic turn in their countries. New-protest actors like the generation of young digital natives that used novelty means of social media for organization and communication distinguish the 2011 protests from earlier uprisings. However, the aftermath of the revolutionary spirit is much more complicated leaving both the lay citizen and scholar with the dynamics of power struggle and societal change. The outcomes of the Arab Spring are yet to be determined and with the emergence of the Islamic State the situation seems less predictable, volatile and instable than ever.
What can be said from a scientific perspective about the uprisings? In fact, most scholars were ill-prepared as they could not predict the timing and nature of change in the Arab World. Instead, conventional research was skeptic about the ability of civic mobilization to overcome established regimes, now raising new questions directed to the sophisticated theories that have been developed during the years prior to the uprisings. The protests also sparked a new scholarly debate about the role of social media in public protest. Cyber-enthusiasts who opt for a Twitter Revolution where social media was the key driving force behind people’s actions and cyber-skeptics that disregard the role of the new communication channels form two extreme poles within the discussion. The middle ground is occupied by scholars that argue for a more complex analysis of the role that social media played in the Arab Spring. They generally agree that social media did indeed matter, but debate over the extent and manner.
The goal of this thesis is to contribute to the debate on the impact and influence of social media in the Arab Spring. While numerous studies have addressed individual factors, they generally lack a broad theoretical framework that puts the findings into a compiled perspective. Understanding the dynamics of the Arab uprisings implies a perspective that takes transnational processes into account and is not limited to a case by case assessment. Hence, this thesis will focus on the transnational effects of social media in the Arab Spring, by introducing a diffusion model, displaying the importance of sequence and timing of communication, organization and mobilization.
To begin with, (2) the current state of research focusing on protest politics and social media communication will be examined to understand the context of the broad scholarly debate. Secondly, (3) method and case selection will be briefly outlined. Subsequently, (4) the theoretical framework and relevance of the contagion thesis will be introduced. The cases of Tunisia and Egypt will be examined and assessed in (5), looking at the 2 factors sparking the protests, the process and dynamics of the uprisings themselves, the role of social media, and the immediate political outcomes. Hereafter, (6) the contagion thesis will be tested by compiling the findings of previous studies and introducing the diffusion model, demonstrating the transnational effects of social media. Conclusively, (7) the findings will be summarized and put into perspective with the broad theoretical framework.
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