Social Media and Social Change

As the Arab Spring evolves, responses must also adapt and change with the challenges. This interactive timeline from The Guardian traces key event.

In this video, USAID’s Middle East Mission Director Chris Crowley describes how USAID is adapting to the Arab Spring.

The Arab Spring began as a spirit of protest rose up and spread like wildfire across the Middle East, facilitated through social media channels. The revolutions taking place have strengthened the view of social media as a legitimate tool for social change. As the region struggles with horrific violence, uncertain political circumstances, and post-revolution transitions, many challenges remain leaving new potential roles for such media. Alec Ross of the U.S. Department of State equates the rise of social media to a “democratization of world politics, shifting the balance of power from nation-states to individuals and smaller institutions“. The danger of that shift is the intensification of fragmentation.

United States Institute for Peace (USIP) Sheldon Himelfarb talks about the role of social media in the recent uprisings in the Middle East, stating that:

“The digital revolution has thrown up lots of unstructured data – from blogs, tweets, public forums, etc. And with the vast new datasets have emerged a whole crop of analytical tools – link analysis, content analysis, social network analysis, meme tracking and the like. These tools crunch, sort, clean and visualize data ostensibly so that we can begin to understand how online discourse manifests itself as offline change.” These evolving tools and information sources introduce hope for many but also controversy.

A September event, Shifting Fact from Fiction: The Role of Social Media in Conflict,” co-hosted by USIP and George Washington University, attempted to expand the understanding of  the use of cutting-edge of research technologies and predictive analytics for conflict management and peacebuilding.

  • Audio of the event 
What do you think the role of social media (like blogging and tweeting) are having in the Arab Spring? What other examples have you observed of social media playing a key role in global and public health issues?

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