Monday, October 24, 2011
Social Media and the Arab Spring: From the Mobile Phone to Cyber Warfare
I just saw, on the CBC's documentary program "The Passionate Eye", the BBC produced "How Facebook Changed the World: The Arab Spring". I must admit, when I first saw the title announced onscreen as "Coming Next" after the news, I was underwhelmed. I decided to watch at least some of it, partly out of curiosity, partly out of "duty" to my own interest in the Arab Spring (Summer, Fall), and partly because otherwise I would have had to put brain to paper in various other forms. As soon as I saw that the documentary came from the BBC and was aired in the context of "The Passionate Eye", I was more enthusiastic.
This documentary not only did not disappoint, it reviewed and contextualized some known events in a way that led to new insight; it expanded my awareness of how various forms of technology and social media were used, including the ingenuity of the rebels as the regimes became more repressive of technologies as well as demonstrators; and, how the mobile phone vs the army became a cyber war of government hackers vs rebel bloggers and cyber activists.
The biggest surprise for me was the deliberate use of what "my Arabs" call "le téléphone arabe"--the Arab telephone, word of mouth, the grapevine--a low tech method infinitely more efficient that unreliable phone lines. This involved reaching non-cyber-connected Egyptians via taxi drivers. Activists in cabs would talk over the phone about plans to rally, and "let" the taxi drivers overhear--highly effective in bringing crowds to Tahrir Square, and other protest sites.
Technology is a toolkit in human hands, and in this documentary diverse human dimensions of the engagement with these tools are highlighted: the street demonstrator with a mobile in one hand and a rock in the other; the ingenious computer wunderkind dodging blocks and transmitting images to the world while being traumatized by them, and by a "profound sense of guilt" for rallying the crowds who became the victims; and, the awakening of the diasporas to the disseminated raw news from their homelands, leading to their demonstrating in Western streets, petitioning Western governments, or paying for the latest in palm-sized devices to record and broadcast the realities Arab dictators didn't/don't want known,
I feel lucky I had the opportunity to see this documentary on the same day as Tunisians voted, and Libyans declared their liberation from Qaddafi (more on those later). The version I saw had addenda updating the events in each country to October 23, 2011. I hope that if you haven't seen the documentary yet, you will take the opportunity to do so.
Below are a number of options: the 1st episode, on Tunisia then Egypt, in 4 fifteen minute segments; or, the 2 full hour long episodes on Tunisia and Egypt, then Libya and Syria. While these 4 countries are the main focus, Bahrainis have posted the 15 minute "Bahrain Part" (between the Egyptian and Libyan segments)--opening with the strategic importance of Bahrain for the West, and the role of the Saudis, and closing with a chilling justification for brutality against doctors and nurses.
How Facebook Changed the World: The Arab Spring--Episode 1 (Tunisia and Egypt) in 4 segments (15 minutes each)
How Facebook Changed the World: The Arab Spring--Episode 1 (Tunisia and Egypt); Episode 2 (Libya and Syria) (59 minutes each)
How Facebook Changed the World: The Arab Spring--The Bahrain Part (between the Egypt and the Libya parts) (15 minutes)
Please share your general impressions of the role of all forms of cyber technology and social media in the Arab Spring (Summer, Fall), and/ or your impressions specifically of this documentary (or parts thereof).
See the category Arabia History (ArabiaHistory) in the side bar; search by individual country using the Search function in the side bar; see the relevant Doha Debates categorized in the side bar.
Egypt unrest: Bloggers take campaign to Tahrir Square"