In Libya, perfecting the art of revolution by Twitter
Every generation’s revolutionaries have harnessed the latest technology, from patriots pamphleting in 1775 to Egyptians texting in 2011. Thanks to YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, today’s Libyan rebels are having a dialogue with the globe, not just each other.
(Page 2 of 2)
Gallery Top Twitter moments
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
“This reality is what makes social networking so critical to the Jasmine Revolution. The international community in all of its many forms must be reached. Governments, relief agencies, media outlets, nongovernmental organizations, and elites with resources all must be informed and mobilized into action,” she says via e-mail. Social media have transformed the range of voices that can be part of a nation’s dialogue, she adds.
Of course, there’s a difference between “knowing what you need to do – and then doing it,” adds Professor McLean.
The “next big wave of democratization”?
Nonetheless, a digital dialogue about national identity that jumps geographical boundaries is going to be increasingly hard to quell, says Leonard Shyles, a communications professor at Villanova University.
Global media are erasing the traditional constraints of time and space, he points out. Images of cultures where faith and reason coexist without government coercion can now move from one nation to another, bringing Western ideals not just to the educated elites but within range of anyone with a cellphone or access to an Internet cafe.
“It is no longer merely the elites in a society that will aspire to self-definition,” says Professor Shyles. Seeing what is possible – and watching revolutions in neighboring nations in real time – changes the shape of what people aspire to. “It may seem a platitude, but human beings want to be free.”
What the world is seeing in this “Egyptian Spring,” echoes Howard, are “the early signs of the next big wave of democratization. But this time, it will be wrestled into life in the digital living room of the global community.”
From now on, he adds, “you will not be able to tell the story of democratization without an appreciation of how social media works.”
Social media are not the causal factor in these movements, Shyles cautions. “Social media like Facebook and Twitter or texting are the accelerant for things that have been wanting to happen inside these countries,” he says.
Will it work?
It is not yet clear how many of the Middle Eastern countries currently in the throes of insurgent movements will evolve democratically, says John Foram, a sociology professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
“These movements represent some of our best possibilities for a better world,” says Professor Foram, but he notes that some of the countries, such as Syria and Iran, are among the world’s most repressive.
The continuing crackdown on civilian protesters in Syrian may illustrate some limitations of the power of social media to rally public opinion. Indeed, Syrian and Iranian governments are tracking their foes on Facebook, illustrating the technology's double-edged sword.
On the other hand, notes Foram, “If this movement is successful in Syria, then repressive countries around the world will have to consider what they need to do to be seen as legit in the eyes of their own people.”