The Facebook Revolutions: One Year On

Western media nicknamed the Arab Spring the “Facebook Revolution” due to the social network’s role as a platform used by activists to broadcast to the rest of the world what was happening in the Middle East. Social media was used as a way to sidestep state-controlled media outlets.

Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim, a marketing manager for Google who helped organize the Arab Spring protests in Egypt via Facebook, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that he would thank Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg if he ever met him in person. “This revolution started online,” he said. “This revolution started on Facebook.”

Twitter’s role in broadcasting Iran’s failed Green Revolution in 2009 helped the uprising earn the name the “Twitter Revolution.” The uprising was the first major documented event in which social media was seen as a means to broadcast to the rest of the world what was going on, circumvent state-controlled media and coordinate social unrest.

Protests later erupted again in Iran in February 2011, concurrently with the Arab Spring.

A mysterious “Jasmine Revolution” brewed in China in 2011, where the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) keeps tight speech restrictions on Chinese citizens. Calls for a “Jasmine Revolution” — which drew inspiration from the Tunisian Revolution and its call for food, jobs and economic opportunity — spooked Chinese authorities.

The Associated Press reported in February that Chinese authorities limited media reports on the Arab Spring in an effort to quell civil discontent in China. Last week, Beijing banned anonymity on its social networks.

The Internet in Syria was also shut down for a short period of time by the authorities with the intent of suppressing civil unrest in that country.

The belief that social media was a catalyst for change was perpetuated by the establishment media throughout the year.

A recent study by Philip Howard, an associate professor in communication at the University of Washington, concluded that the Arab Spring “truly was fueled by social media.”

“Our evidence suggests that social media carried a cascade of messages about freedom and democracy across North Africa and the Middle East, and helped raise expectations for the success of political uprising,” Howard told tech blog TG Daily in September.