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Mobilisation: from pamphlets to Twitter

by on January 23, 2014

Social media has definitely revolutionised political mobilisation. This has led to mobilisation being democratised and decentralised in the nature of its use and its users. Social media allows for accurate and first hand information to be shared with many people at an amazing speed. The Arab spring was of course unique in the sense that it is essentially the only revolution in modern day where it has been possible to globally, in real time witness what took place. However, mobilisation to the same extent has happened and advanced across borders without the aid of modern technology. The Arab spring does share more similarities with historical revolutions that being credited for. I want to discuss whether the Arab spring is not necessarily unique, but rather just different, in the sense of real time media involvement. The spread of word allows to organise opinions, confirm shared interests and acquire capital. This are the three necessary factors that will aid the transition from thought to action (Tilly, 1977). And it is in the spread of word that media is the main architect for a system where this can take place.

The evolution of mass mobilisation

During the French revolution a whole country was mobilised which ignited a spark in the whole region that was one of the key events in the history of modern democracies. It is fascinating in how it developed from media portals such as the spread of word, images and enlightened texts. The media coverage was extensive throughout all of Europe and suddenly newpspapers became a medium for all (Reichardt, 2012).The satire and comic strips became a significant, and effective, aspect of winning hearts and minds, as the many of the lower classes, especially the peasants, often did not how to either read nor speak French and were thus kept in the dark when it came to state affairs (Histoire du français, 2013 (why French is now the only official language of the republic)).

Img source: Oxfam

The revolution itself accelerated the democratisation of the public realm and made it more available to all through free printing (Reichardt, 2012). One of the most famous usage of propaganda is that of Queen Marie Antoinette, supposedly, replying: ‘Qu’ils mangent de la brioche‘, to the news that there were not even bread for the peasants to eat. This particular event had such an impact to the extent that the quote is still used (see image to the right). The various prints that were available aimed to, through the creation of a national brotherhood, sell the ideas of complete social and governmental reform (Papotto, 2012).

Perhaps it is even legitimate to say that the French revolution paved the way for how free media affected the Arab Spring in some ways? The Arab spring has been considered particularly effective in its mobilisation process due to the quick gathering of one collective objective in the public room. The digital forums available to people do not only provide a realm to discuss political environments but allows for coordinating the planning of debates and organisation of protests. It has become an important tool for the oppressed in gaining international attention and support. Nevertheless, merely social media alone cannot sustain a revolution. It is not a free entity that revolt on its own, people are. Movindri Reddy suggests that the usage of social media might even distract from the necessary elements of revolutions that needs to take place when the public support has been gathered. 

The Arab spring has been labelled a social media revolution by many scholars and journalists. However, media has played an important part in many historically political and social contexts. Media was the main tool to gather popular support during the French revolution as it was in the mass protests in the Arab world and the main differences that can be established is the speed in which information flows, due to decentralised usage, and thus the speed of the revolt.

Img source BBC

_______________________________________________________________________________________ Resources

Abulof U, 2011, What is the Arab third estate?, Huffington Post, Published October 3rd

Anon, 2013, La révolution française: La langue nationale (1789-1870), Histoire du français, Published September 8th 

Papotto L, 2012, Propaganda in the American and French revolutions, Published December 4th 

Reddy M, 2013, Can social media sustain a revolution?, Global Policy, Published August 20th

Reichardt R, 2012, The French revolution as a European media event, European History Online, Published August 27th

Tilly C, 1977, From mobilization to revolution, University of Michigan

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