THE upheavals and protests in Iran in 2009, and in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Libya this year have been breathlessly reported by Western media as “Twitter” or “Facebook” revolutions.
Leaving aside the arrogance of claiming that popular upheavals in which hundreds, if not thousands of people have died, were the result of social networking websites, it is clear that Facebook and Twitter were, in some ways, used to organise protests.
The question becomes then, were the uprisings fomented and sustained by social networking sites in much the same way Gutenburg’s press sparked the Reformation.
The protests, which were originally sparked when Tunisian man Mohamed Bouaziziset set himself on fire because authorities refused to hear his complaints about his treatment by police who shut down his vegetable stall.
Bouazizi’s story spread throughout Tunisia on Facebook and Twitter and when he died from third degree burns 18 days later, protests erupted around the country.
Within a week the 23 year reign of President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali was over.
The spark, lit by Bouazizi and fanned by Twitter and Facebook, ignited a firestorm that threatened to engulf the region.
Egypt and Libya, in the face of protests, completely shutdown the internet
This seems to lend credence to the “Twitter revolution” theory.
And China, in the wake of the uprisings, has blocked searches for the word Jasmine on Twitter (the Middle East uprisings have been dubbed Jasmine Revolutions) indicating the Politburo is fearful of the microblogging site’s potential as an organising tool for dissidents.
It must be said, however that the temporary shutdown of the internet in Egypt and Libya did little to reduce the intensity of the protests once they had started.
It cannot be denied that the internet has played a role in the revolts across the Middle East, but credit for the popular uprisings does not belong to Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey.
It belongs to the millions of people who braved bullets, bombs and beating to demand their voices be heard.