By: Bronson Diallo
Modern media platforms are fast, accessible, informative, and all encompassing. With television, text print and radio broadcasting cycling on a twenty-four hour basis, stories from around the globe are collected by news media agencies and conveniently delivered directly to their large audiences. While these agencies are the means by which a great percentage of news is accounted for and viewed, the stories in question are in fact presented by way of a filtered lens. What we see and how we see it, for decades, was determined by the news agency—resulting in censored, whitewashed, and altered stories at the hands of marketing teams, governments and a myriad of other forces working in the interest of high ratings and politically acceptable material. The Internet, and its operation by average individuals brought forth a new realm of communication—a place in which the masses could archive information, and communicate with one another on a large scale—the Internet proved itself to be a platform that provided the same service that media news agencies had provided for decades prior. Since the Internet’s introduction to wide public usage in the late 1990s, its use has been greatly applied to large scale political movements across the globe—as people living under oppressive regimes prone to censoring their nation’s domestic and imported media found their footing on the web—utilizing the space to communicate thoughts, and organize gatherings that may be deemed illegal in their home nations. This was most recently and notably evident during the recent and ongoing Arab Spring.
In the 2000s, social media—or platforms that cater to personalized accounts pertaining to individuals, businesses, and other organizations—granted its users means by which they could express opinions unique to who they are as individuals, as activists, etc.—and so too could larger organizations by way of a confined Internet space (a personal page.) One website in particular, Twitter, has proven itself as the ideal space for quick communication to a large audience. A study launched by the University of Washington revealed the following: that, “During the week before Egyptian president Hosni Mubaraks resignation, for example, the total rate of tweets from Egypt — and around the world — about political change in that country ballooned from 2,300 a day to 230,000 a day. Videos featuring protest and political commentary went viral – the top 23 videos received nearly 5.5 million views. The amount of content produced online by opposition groups, in Facebook and political blogs, increased dramatically” (Catherine O’Donnel, University of Washington). Across North Africa and the Middle East, an entire generation of social media users took to the Internet to voice opinions that had been silenced for so many years before.
Even for those who do, or did not, use a personal social media account such as Twitter exclusively or extensively at this time in the Arab World, the accessibility of the content circulating throughout the social media-scape was still available for viewing. As seen in Tunisia in December of 2010 (there first days of the revolution), and further into 2011, while “less than 20 percent of the population uses social media…almost everyone has access to a mobile phone.” While 80 percent of Tunisians may not have engaged with social media directly or as contributors, their usage of their mobile or smart phones ensured that they could view the content that those who were tweeting, filming, and posting to the information feed—informing them of gatherings, protests, and other activities concerning the Spring.
Social media has had remarkable implications in the current state of Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq among other nations. As such a greatly tumultuous time is upon the Middle East and the rest of the world included, we can’t help but be curious as to what the future of social media has in store.