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The Power of Networks

by on November 30, 2013

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The digital age has brought with it a range of different social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. While for many it is merely a means to socialise, for others networks have provided a means for political mobilisation and attempts for political change. Can social networks provide a means for political change? The events of 2011 known as the Arab Spring would lead many to conclude they are.

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December the 17th 2010 saw Tunisian vegetable peddler Mohammed Bouazizi set himself ablaze in images which shocked the masses. This was the result of him being spat at, slapped and having his cart confiscated by a policewoman. The feelings of injustice felt were not isolated and thus, this unexpectedly sparked what many called an Arab uprising. Protesting began across many Arab nations. By January 14th 2011 Tunisia’s president of 24 years, Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali fled from Tunisia following a month of protests and increased public outrage over the way in which the security forces were handling the situation. Soon after, Egypt saw its leader of 30 years, Hosni Mubarak, forced from office, similarly, following mass protests in which hundreds of protestors died. The months following saw protesting in Libia, Bahrain, Syria and Yemen amongst others, all echoing feelings of anger over issues such as poverty and injustice.


Many would consider the real success of the Arab Springs to be down to the role of networks and the ability to connect that they provide.  For those protesting Facebook was the means of broadcasting videos and events which were occurring and also a means for collective action to take place. Networks were key in showing the world what was going on at that time. They were able to Bypass State controlled television, which were unwilling to show scenes of protests against their governments and of civil unrest. Both twitter and Facebook helped to amplify  the force of the protesters, used to communicate where protests would be held, where security were using teargas against protesters and to show maps of meetings for instance. The fact that the formations seen were networks rather than organizations meant that they were particularly difficult to sever. With them being remarkably flexible and diverse and incredibly mobile in nature. Although some may criticise the power of networks on politics, others feel that their influence should not be underestimated. Social media became such a driving force in the Arab Spring uprising due to the fact that Arab governments had very little understanding of it and the role it was able to play. They were therefore relatively slow to react to it and when they did, for some, it came in the form of governments shutting down the internet which seemed to further exacerbate citizens.  In the case of Tunisia, President Ben Ali was forced to apologise and reopen social network sites they had blocked after it resulted in the sizes of protests increasing.

Some believe that the power of networks, the internet and the ability to connect will result in more movement like those seen in the Arab Spring, but how true is this? It seems that Chinese governments may agree and following the event of 2011 they took far greater control over its internet in fear of a ripple effect. Is this a mere overreaction? For some, there is the feeling that role of networks in the Arab uprising has been exaggerated; with it being argued that those using these networks are the ones championing the role it played.  Referred to by some as cyber-utopianism are the ideas that twitter and facebook toppled dictatorial regimes and advocated democracy, for cyber-realist this notion is absurd. Twitter and Facebook were merely tools in the Arab uprising and it was people, with shared feelings of discontent who took to the streets to protest for what they believe in.

While it is hard to dispute that social networks played a part in the organisation of protests in the Arab Spring, many argue how much of a part it actually played, arguing that it was not laptops that protested but people, who were fraught with feelings of injustice, inequality and with a common goal. In contrast others argue that networks were fundamental in their common goal being spread and recognised and in these movements taking place.

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7 Comments
  1. I concur that during the uprising of the Arab Spring, a domino effect came to place due to social networking sites. The exposure of the crippling situation lead to unification of the Arabs, due to common purposes, which changed the dynamics of domestic and world politics; global society and economics. In addition to this, it can be suggested that ‘the power of networks’ would effect relations between states, by enabling us and the rest of the world to have self interest in politics, therefore one may understand the reality of those living within dictated zones. Consequently leading to public diplomacy and moreover global response.

  2. lir0131 permalink

    This is a good article which highlights strong connection between social networks and conflicts occurring nowadays in many parts of the world. It is obvious that networks play an enormous role in our lives. I agree with your statement that nowadays networks are key elements in showing the world what is going in real time. Moreover networks such as Facebook or Twitter become a crucial tools in revolutions such as the Arab Spring and can easily help facilitate these movements.

  3. carlacds permalink

    The so called ‘Power of networks’ is indisputable as you stressed in the article. There is no doubt it has played a major role in the Arab Spring at the same time it remains key to our daily lives. I think it is also necessary to point out some other effects that may not be as good, like the lack of accountability as well as being a tool for terrorist. In other words, while social media is a marvelous technology that has not only revolutionised the way in which we live at the time it has a say in global issues it may also be misused and that is something we should keep in mind

  4. The article is well structured and easy to follow. It provides information in stages which makes it easier for the reader to understand for example, introduction, background information, the arguments put forward by those who insist social media played a critical role as well as those who argue the opposite.

    I think a greater breakdown of the stages in revolutions could have taken place which would answer where does social media actually fit in? It is obviously useful during organisational operations, however the article mentions ‘it was not laptops that protested but people…’ indicating that social media is unable to replace boots on the ground. This statement is rather obvious and therefore social media should be seen in the context of a logistical tool and not an offensive weapon.

  5. This account provides a fair overview of the debate on this subject. Online social networks certainly lower the cost of communication and formation of like-minded groups, and so it is hard to argue they had no impact whatsoever. But online activism alone rarely changes the world. In terms of improving this post, please root your discussion more in the debate in the academic literature on this subject, exploring the specific arguments of specific thinkers on the themes you raise. There are also some typographical errors (especially incorrect use of upper-case first letters, for example, ‘Bypass States’ should have lower-case first letters, but Twitter should have a capital T as it is the name of an organisation and social media platform).

  6. This article clearly states the central point of these events and certainly pave the use of social media as one of the main factors that contributed in organising the revolution more effectively in the Meddle East. Therefore, I think that there is no doubt that social media embodies the connection between action and expression, but in the mean time, this generation still need to know how much more social media will have to challenge power in the future, as some governments are creating new lawsuits in order to restrict its function freely. In fact, some governments around the world have jailed individuals who use social media as a tool to protest against their governments. For instance, that is the case of Venezuela.

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