Grassroots activism can cause a revolution; social media can make a difference.
In the past four weeks, riots spread across Tunisia, as citizens dissatisfied with unemployment and government corruption took action. Demonstrations began after a young man named Mohamed Bouazizi lit himself on fire in order to protest unemployment in Sidi Bouzid. Protesters quickly spread across the country, culminating in tens of thousands of people gathering in Tunis rallying against the government. By the end of the week, President Ben Ali fled the country.
Tunisia has undergone a revolution, and it will serve as an important model for the Middle East and North Africa. In spite of strict media censorship (which was one of the root causes of the revolts), the Tunisian people were still able to utilize social media in order to fuel their revolution. People turned to the blogosphere, Twitter, and YouTube to document what was happening in their country and connect with one another.
As we all know, Internet censorship is widespread in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), so the implications of a revolution in Tunisia that was able to use simple Tweets for its cause will be felt throughout the region. And, not only did social media allow for Tunisians to connect with one another, it also allowed them to share their experience in a live-update format, which is particularly influential to those in the Arab world who are ready to emulate Tunisia.
On Twitter, there have already been calls for Tunisia-like actions in other Middle Eastern countries. Algeria has already seen a wave of protests against rising prices, while thousands protested against inflation and poverty in Amman, Jordan. Egypt is also likely to follow, as people grow more frustrated with government corruption.
While social media did not cause a revolution in Tunisia (authoritarian rule accompanied by terrible economic conditions did), social media served as a catalyst for more rapid change. The essence of the revolution in Tunisia was the Internet allowed people to connect and mobilize. Events in Tunisia are an evolution of events in Iran two summers ago and have the potential to be replicated anywhere, and it’s possible that it has already started.
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