The Arab spring of 2012 was a political revolution for the Middle East and north Africa, but it reflected the social revolution that has swept the world.
For the first time, international observers did not need to rely on television or radio to find out what was happening in Egypt or Libya. Just by logging on to Facebook they were able to see pictures and videos or read blogs by Arab protesters.
Occupy Gezi, a Facebook page created two weeks ago by Turkish protesters has 49,500 fans and grows daily. Updated every hour with snapshots from camera phones, links to articles and anti-government commentary, it aims to keep the public updated on unfolding events, a move Turkey’s political establishment has strongly condemned.
“There is now a menace which is called Twitter,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. London’s Guardian newspaper had him adding: “The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.”
The activists involved in the protest movement are not the only people depending on social media. Two journalists arrested during protests this week used Twitter to keep readers and colleagues informed. Sasa Petricic, a Serbian Canadian journalist covering the unrest for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in the Middle East tweeted a single word from the heart of Istanbul yesterday morning: “Arrested.” He continued to Tweet about it until evening when he confirmed his release.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, the head of the Economist magazine’s New York bureau, Matthew Bishop, said social media had “enormous potential to release change in society”. (The magazine’s cover featuring Recep Erdogan dressed in a sultan’s finery has proved a popular retweet among protesters.)
“Social media has put him [Erdogan] under considerable pressure,” Bishop said.
Bishop, discussing the ideas presented in his book (co-authored by Michael Green) The Road from Ruin, on rebuilding capitalism from the wreck of the global financial crisis, told the HuffPost that the key to getting the best from technology was to make sure it promoted transparency.
“A lot of energy needs to go to making sure data the government controls is opened up. New social media really gives a voice to people who have never had a voice before, and the fact that we have billions of people all over the developing world on mobile phones is transforming the whole development process…
“This empowerment of people [at the bottom of the pile] is quite transformational.” – Sara Sachawars
Photos from the Occupy Gezi Facebook page. Top image shows a message of solidarity posted on the page by Israeli supporters.