sexta-feira, 18 de fevereiro de 2011
Por Robert J. Brym
Department of Sociology, University of Toronto
Pro-democracy protests broke out immediately after the 2009 Iranian presidential election. Many Iranians felt that rigging the results in favour of the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was merely the latest indignity they had suffered at the hands of a repressive regime. In 2010 and 2011, similar protests spread throughout much of the Middle East and North Africa. Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria, Jordan, Libya – all of these countries were rocked by protesters, many of them young and well educated, taking to the streets and demanding regime change.
Growing working class literacy allowed pamphlets and newspapers to spread socialist ideas in nineteenth century Europe. Similarly, with more than a quarter of the Middle East and North African population connected to the Internet, Twitter and Facebook were used to voice grievances, debate tactics, publicize atrocities, and plan demonstrations in many Muslim-majority countries between 2009 and 2011 (“Internet...,” 2011). Many American commentators on CNN, Fox News, and the major television networks called the uprisings “twitter revolutions.” Is the term justified?
There can be little doubt that social networking sites helped the uprisings crystallize and spread. However, it is easy to exaggerate their importance. Only .027 percent of the Iranian population had Twitter accounts in 2009, and most tweets concerning the uprising were in English and originated in the United States and other western countries. In Egypt in 2011, the government basically pulled the plug on the Internet, after which demonstrations grew and intensified (Gladwell, 2010; Rich, 2011). These facts suggest that it was not American inventions (Twitter, Facebook, the Internet itself) that propelled the pro-democracy movement in the Middle East and North Africa so much as the brutal facts of everyday life in the region: widespread poverty and unemployment, low upward social mobility, and lack of freedom. Social media helped, but they were only a small part of the story.
More generally, it is important to note that most Facebook friends are really acquaintances and most Twitter followers don’t know the people they are following personally. It is relatively easy to get such socially distant people on social networking sites to participate in certain actions – but only if participation requires little sacrifice. The Facebook page of the Save Darfur Coalition has nearly 1.3 million members but they have donated an average of just nine cents each to the organization (Gladwell, 2010). Big sacrifices in the name of political principles require strong social ties, not the weak ties offered by Twitter accounts and Facebook pages. Typically, when individuals join a social movement, they attract clusters of friends, relatives, and members of the same unions, cooperatives, fraternities, college dorms, churches, mosques, and neighbourhoods. This pattern occurs because involvement in a social movement is likely to require big sacrifices, and you need to be close to others before you can reasonably expect them to share your ideas and willingness to sacrifice for a cause (McAdam, 1982). Relying mainly on weakly tied members of a Twitter group is insufficient. Social movement success depends on the sacrifices of dedicated activists bound together by strong social ties.
Gladwell, Malcolm. 2010. “Small Change.” The New Yorker 4 October. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/10/04/101004fa_fact_gladwell (retrieved 18 February 2011).
“Internet World Statistics.” 2011. http://www.internetworldstats.com/ (retrieved 18 February 2011).
McAdam, Doug. 1982. Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930-1970. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Rich, Frank. 2011. “Wallflowers at the Revolution.” New York Times 5 February. www.nytimes.com (retrieved 18 February 2011).