Technology Fuels the Arab Spring
In the last year new technologies didn't just make our lives easier—they completely changed the political structure of the Middle East. Twitter had a hand in bringing down a several dictatorships this year as protestors in the Middle East communicated and organized with one another via social media.
The Arab Spring began in December 2010 after the self-immolation of fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, who was protesting high unemployment rates in Tunisia. News and images of his protest began moving quickly. Protests in Tunisia ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, and by February resistance brought down the 30-year regime of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, forcing him to resign. In August, after months of protests that erupted into a civil war, Libya's dictator since 1969, Muammar Gaddafi, was hunted down by opposition forces and killed.
To see if Twitter played a role in regime change, researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle analyzed millions of tweets, looking for words like "revolution," "liberty," and "Ben Ali." The occurrence of those words spiked as the revolutions got underway. They also saw that the activity from Egypt on Twitter in the days before Mubarak resigned increased 100-fold. The study concludes that the service played a key role in toppling dictators in Egypt and Tunisia, although other experts debate just how much social media tools drove the revolutions.—Rose Eveleth
Image of Tahir Square in Cairo, February 2, 2011, courtesy of Al Jazeera/Flickr
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