MMI Watercooler

Social Media in the Middle East: Widespread Dialogue Leads To Change

by Emily Packard on 09/23/2011

Earlier this year, revolution rocked the Middle East and North Africa, from Egypt to Tunisia and beyond. Social media became the driving force behind public protests and regime topplings in a series of events dubbed the “Arab Spring.”

In February, Egyptians organized by Facebook and Twitter postings gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to protest the repressive reign of then-president Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak eventually lost power, and many international observers credited social media with fomenting the momentous change.

In an interview with popular tech publication Wired, news site paid Content founder Rafat Ali presented his take on the role of Facebook and Twitter in the protests. Facebook united activists within Egypt, he said, while Twitter took the news of revolution around the globe, especially influencing Western media.

The same can be said for social media usage in Tunisia, where bloggers organized citizens protesting the oppressive power of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who eventually fled the North African nation. Many times, Facebook, Twitter, blogging, YouTube and more seems much harder to control than traditional media in light of heavy-handed government censorship.

This proved to be the case in Tunisia and other countries where cell phones and laptops carried the word of revolution much faster than papers or evening newscasts. Many of the country’s citizens documented protests and riots as they happened, immediately uploading footage to YouTube and other sites.

Arab-Israeli Relations

Fast forward to today, where Palestine plans to approach the United Nations with a request for official recognition. The longstanding conflict between Israel and Palestine is bound to be enhanced by this move, and undoubtedly people from all sides will take to social media to make their opinions heard.

Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon has already taken to the Internet to voice his concerns on Palestine (he tweets in three languages and maintains a presence on Facebook, Google+ and YouTube), a move marked by controversy in the international community. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also recently opened up social media accounts. In response, Palestinian leaders have encouraged people to use the same media to present their point of view.

It is encouraging to note, though, that many would like to use social media to bring about peace. What will happen next? Stay tuned to Twitter and find out.

Lessons Learned

What do conflicts in the Middle East have to teach us about the effects of social media?

  • New and emerging media has the power to bring about radical change.
  • Tools like Facebook and Twitter allow for a diversity of opinions, but often act as a unifying force in the face of trying times.
  • Promotion of a cause via social media can often display urgency and reach a wider audience faster than some traditional methods.

How have you used social media to promote a cause or publicize an event recently? Even if it isn’t on the scale of revolution, organizing your target publics through regular tweets and Facebook updates can generate surprising results.

Photo Credit: Flickr user @gletham GIS, Social, Mobile Tech Images