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Social Media Evolution: The Egipcian Revolution

1788 words - 7 pages

The burning torch of political revolution that engulfed the Middle East in the winter of 2011 started with a single matchstick. Affected by Tunisia’s staggering 14% unemployment (Alterman, 2011), 26 year old Mohammed Bouazizi resorted to selling fruit from a street cart in order to provide for his family. Doing so without a license, however, subjected him to constant harassment by the Sidi Bouzid authorities. On 27 December 2011, Bouazizi’s fruit scale was confiscated by a female municipal officer and, upon voicing his grievances, she brandished a stern slap to his face; an unthinkable act of disrespect in the Middle East only amplified by the officer’s gender. Disgraced, defeated, and infuriated, Bouazizi filled a gasoline can with petrol, walked to the steps of the Sidi Bouzid government office building, and placed a lit match to his gasoline drenched body (Simon, 2011). Local sentiment for Bouazizi’s self-immolation spread quickly and “sparked a series of protest in the Tunisian hinterlands that over a period of three weeks made their way to [the capital city,] Tunis” (Alterman, 2011). While Bouazizi’s sacrifice was not a major catalyst of the Arab Spring, it began a regional and international dialogue which, in turn, provided the foundation to inspire those who would become self-proclaimed activist on social networking sites such as Twitter. The question, then, is what impact did Twitter have in sustaining and advancing the Arab Spring uprisings?

To understand the full scale of influence of social media, particularly Twitter, you must first understand the service Twitter provides to its users. According to Twitter’s website (About Twitter, 2013), the company’s mission is to “give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.” To achieve these ends, Twitter users micro-blog messages, or tweets, to their profile in under 140 characters. The number of other people that will immediately see the tweeted message is contingent upon the number of followers the user has. Twitter explains this simplistic “brevity keeps Twitter fast-paced and relevant by encouraging people to Tweet in the moment and to focus on the essential idea they are trying to communicate” (About Twitter, 2013).
Tweets gain notoriety by way of a linking mechanism called a hashtag (#). If for example, enough Twitter users tweeted #jan25, the link would “trend” and appear on Twitter’s trending topics section. Under this premise, even a Twitter user with zero followers can hashtag a tweet that, within hours, can be seen, replied to, or retweeted by any of the 230 million active Twitter users (About Twitter, 2013). As of December 2013, 500 million Tweets are sent per day, on average 76% of these Tweets are sent from mobile devices, and 77% of the Tweets come from user accounts outside the United States (About Twitter, 2013). Put another way, nearly four percent of the world’s 7 billion people are connected via Twitter. These statistics...

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