The Role of Social Media as a Tool in Instigating Rebellion and Protest: A Case Study of the Arab Spring

My project aims to identify the role social media plays in starting, organizing, and implementing political protest. With the introduction of social media, a new form of connectivity and a new public sphere of digital space was created, allowing people to converse and discuss their political preferences in a private and autonomous environment. When actors can understand each other’s preferences before protests take place, they are able to organize and create an effective revolution as suggested by tipping point models. Therefore, in countries with poor and oppressive governments, the use of social media should increase transparency and help start effective revolutions that can lead to democratization. This was the nature of the Arab Spring in 2011. While there were many factors that caused this revolution, my project will analyze the significance social media played in spreading political discussions and organizing protests to create a collective agency, and if that collective agency led to democratization.

To assess the role of social media, I will analyze a comparative study of three countries involved in the Arab Spring that used social media. These countries are Tunisia, which had a successful transition to democracy; Egypt, which had a mixed transition to democracy; and Syria, which had a failed transition to democracy. I am going to look at how social media was involved in each of these cases, and if it contributed or hindered their respective democratic revolutions.  The research will come from general books and articles on revolution that highlight the common themes and processes behind revolutions, and specific articles, primary sources, and books on the Arab Spring including Democracy’s Fourth Wave?: Digital Media and the Arab Spring by Philip N. Howard and The Future of the Arab Spring: Civic Entrepreneurship in Politics, Art, and Technology Startups by Maryam Jamshidi.

Through this research, I will try to answer the following questions. Can social media be used to increase transparency and accountability? Does it actually help to organize and revolutionize people or does it divide them? Does social media pose as a tool for stronger democracy through social media protests or does it pose a threat to political stability? Answering these questions can help to shed light on the effects of connectivity and online collective agency on political institutions and the people governed by them in today’s digital age.