Technology has always played a major role in historical change. The development was only made possible by the industrial revolution, which brought people together in the factoriesm leading to the development of ideas of democracy and equality. Similarly, the recent Arab democratic revolutions have been shaped by technology – in particular the spread of mobile phones, social media, and global communication.
The internet and mobile phones have made it increasingly difficult to sensor activists and has helped loosen the grip of authoritarian states over their population. This is a vital step in popular revolutions, as when people from different areas of the country can communicate and share ideas, it ispossible for democratic ideas to spread.
But where social media has really had an impact, is in the relations between the revolutionary movements in Syria, Egypt and Tunisia and the outside world. In the past, opposition movements had to appeal to individual journalists, who offered their personal perspective on what was happening in a country.
The internet and global media has, however, opened up new channels of communication between people, organisations, and governments. For example, if you look back at the films of the Tahrir square crowds, many of the signs were written in English and directed at a global audience. This is hugely important: for it lets protestors speak to populations across the world and to influence public opinion.
New technology has played an even more important role in the Syrian uprising, where camera phones have allowed the opposition to document the atrocities of the Assad regime and send them out of the country, in time to appear on the evening news. All this has radically changed the way the conflict is viewed and has allowed unprecedented footage of the conflict to be visualised.
We have seen similar developments in Britain, where the spread of cheap camera phones and portable video cameras has proved instrumental in several police brutality cases. For example, in the case of Ian Tomlinson – who died after being pushed over by the police at the G20 protest in April 2009 – a video taken by a protester proved central in challenging the police’s version of events.
However, the new channels of communication which social media has opened up do not always facilitate dialogue and understanding. We have seen this recently in the case of the film “the Innocence Muslims” which provoked huge protests in the Middle East. Clearly, there is no reason to think that more communication between people with often starkly opposing viewpoints will always lead to constructive dialogue. And as anyone who has used social media knows:the internet often brings out the very worst in people!
Whatever we think of them, these technologies are undoubtedly here to stay. We however, the global community, will have to learn to use these technologies to help facilitate global cooperation, human rights and peace. Only then can we honour the revolutionary potential of social media!
Written by anonymous and published on 18-December-2012