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Assignment 1: Literature review


The role of Social Media in disseminating news and the importance of social networking sites in our everyday lives

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Abstract The Arab Spring, which started out as a wave of mass protests by people against repressive governments in North Africa and the Middle East, soon became a global phenomenon as a result of widespread coverage and public outcry supporting its cause. But not only did it trigger democratic movements in several countries, but also brought to light unprecedented ways of spreading their awareness - through Social Media. In the absence of freedom of speech and an independent mass media, social networking sites such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are being extensively used as a source of news and information and to spread awareness about the on-going conflict to the rest of the world. To most of us, social networking sites are merely a form of interaction. But the scope of social media extends far beyond that. In fact, it is being used in various aspects of our everyday lives and has become an integral part of modern society. This report focuses on the wide reach and access, and hence the wide impact and significance of Social Media as a source of news and information. For this purpose, a detailed case study is conducted on the role that social media played in bringing out the significance of the Arab Spring revolutions to the outside world. Figures are used to depict social medias role in disseminating news and how it compares to conventional media, as well as other examples of how important and indispensable Social Media has become in our everyday lives.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction1 2. Social Media and the Arab Spring: A Case Study.2

3. Effect of Social Media on Conventional Media.5

4. Social Media as a means of disseminating news Fig. 4.1. Where people get their news..6

5. Social Media in contemporary society...7 6. Conclusions8

7. References..9

List of Abbreviations

BBC British Broadcasting Corporation CNN Cable News Network MENA Middle East and North Africa

1. Introduction The Arab Spring is a phenomenon that has undoubtedly made a profound impact on the world we live in. It began as a wave of protests and demonstrations that eventually brought about major political upheavals. It is widely regarded as a peoples movement towards democracy as the revolutions were characterised by public anger towards corrupt, repressive governments and totalitarian dictatorships. But a major factor to be considered in the outcome of the revolutions is the use of Social Media. Long before any of the multinational news corporations decided to turn their attention towards the topic, the looming revolution was shown to people all over the world through websites like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook and evoked large-scale public support, making it a global sensation. Since the national media in these countries were government-owned, people resorted to the internet, as a uncensored, unbiased means of making their voices heard all over the world and spreading awareness of the revolutions taking place in their secluded societies. Incidents such as these have brought to light the immense potential of social networking sites as a source of news and information, and their significance in our everyday lives. Social media is a simple set of networking tools used for social interaction. But the scope of social media is diverse, which is reflected in how we use social media in contemporary society. Today, social media is used in various areas ranging from Business to Politics. But there are implications of its usage and whether they are positive or negative depends on our intentions as users of social media.

2. Social Media and the Arab Spring: A Case Study The Arab Spring is a phenomenon unlike any other. It was a case of a single isolated incident causing a huge wave of events of much larger magnitude. The recent democratic movements in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Egypt and the on-going conflict in Syria were all triggered by Mohamed Bouazizi, a young fruit and vegetable seller in Tunisia, who immolated himself after he was publicly humiliated for not paying bribes to government officials (BBC, 2011). His suicide brought to light the severe hardships being faced by the Tunisian people under the corrupt, authoritarian dictatorship. His desperate act triggered a wave of sympathy from the public and sparked widespread protests in Tunisia, causing a domino effect in the region which gave rise to a huge wave of protests and demonstrations in several other countries in North Africa and the Middle East that were also plagued by corruption, widespread unemployment and lack of freedom of speech and expression. This was where social media played an important role in helping the people spread awareness about the revolution and its cause. Since the traditional media outlets in these countries were government-owned, the people turned to social media to tell their story to the world. In fact, the control of conventional media made the role of social media even more relevant. (Khondker, 2011, p.677) Social media is a tool for social interaction, which made it ideal for organising demonstrations and protests and also sharing the incidents with the outside world. As an Egyptian activist tweeted: we use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world (Global Voice Advocacy, 2010, Cited in Khondker, 2011, p.677). Several people uploaded videos of the on-going conflicts on social networking sites, which were also used to organise and coordinate protests, spread awareness about the revolution and inspire people to take part in it. My name is freedom. Born in Tunisia, raised in Egypt, studied in Yemen, fought in Libya and Ill grow up in the Arab world. AliTweel (Twitter, 2011, cited in Channel4 News, 2011)

The Facebook page, inspired by Libyas first anniversary of uprising against the Gaddafi regime, had more than 82,000 members as on February 2011. On Twitter, the hash tags #Feb17 and #SidiBouzid, which was about Mohamed Bouazizi, who immolated himself, spread like wildfire over the internet (Channel4 News, 2011). Much of the coverage from Egypt, Libya and Syria has originated from social networking sites, driven by the mobility of cell phones and the growth of global social networks (Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, 2012). A survey of more than 200 people during the protests in Egypt and Tunisia revealed that a majority of them (88% in Egypt and 96% in Tunisia) were getting their information from social networking sites (Dubai School of Government, 2011). Due to the dominant role played by social networking sites, the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions have been called Facebook or Twitter revolutions (Khondker, 2011, p.677) Mobile phones were widely used to capture the conflicts taking place on the streets. They also provided instant communication among protesters. The satellite network provided by UAE telecom provider Etisalat enabled rebels to have their own mobile phone network which enabled them to organise subsequent actions. (Coker and Levinson, 2011) But it was not long before the governments started making use of social media for their own benefit. The Libyan government sent a text message to mobile phone users stating We congratulate those who understand that interfering with national unity threatens the future of generations. Egypt is also known to have forced the telecom provider Vodafone to send pro-government SMS to the public (Meo, 2011). Perhaps the most important factor that made social media effective was the ability to instantly share information that was free from censorship and hence enabled people to show to the world exactly what they saw and felt about the issues that mattered the most to them. Many have acknowledged and praised the role played by social media in the Arab spring. A recent study from the University of Washington concluded that social media did play a revolutionary role in the Arab spring. (Howard et al., 2011)

Egypts former Minister of State for Communications, Nabil Al Sharif said that The most important outcome of the Arab spring is the destruction of the old media regime. (Channel4 News, 2011) But some claim that the role of social media has been overstated. Less than 5% of Egyptians use Facebook and/or Twitter (Al Jazeera, 2012). Though social media was a vital tool, especially in the absence of an independent mass media, it was a tool nevertheless. (Khondker, 2011, p.678) Malcolm Gladwell, a best-selling author and Journalist for The New York Times caused a controversy when he suggested that the grievances that pushed the people into the streets deserve far more attention than the tools they used to organise themselves. (Morozov, 2011) Gladwell makes an important point that the outcome of a revolution should be attributed to the people who participate in it. But it is also important to note that it was social media that enabled the people to spread awareness about their revolt, as Nabil Al Sharif said, the public lost their trust in the national media and turned to selfgenerated news to spread awareness about the revolution to the outside world. Hence, the underlying significance of social media in the outcome of the Arab spring cannot be neglected. While social media did play an important role in the Arab spring, its impact would not have been the same without conventional media. Even before the uprisings in the MENA region, it was argued that for newer forms of communication like the internet to have an effect on the masses, they need to be relayed by Conventional media (Arsenault and Castells, 2006, p.303, cited in Khondker, 2012, p.678). It is important to note that the use of social media is still small when compared to Conventional media. Hence the impact of the Arab spring on the outside world can be attributed not only to social media but also to conventional media making use of social mediagenerated content to constantly remind the world about the revolutions as they took place.

3. Effect of social media on conventional media Conventional media like Television and Newspapers have recognised the immense potential of social media. Rather than feeling threatened, they have embraced it. Global news corporations are increasingly using social media as a way of broadening their reach and promoting public interaction and participation in disseminating news. This has led to the rise of Citizen Journalism or Participatory Journalism, which is based upon the public playing an active role in collecting, reporting, analysing and disseminating news and information (Bowman and Willis, 2003). For instance, the BBCs World Have Your Say and CNNs iReport, where there is active participation of the public through various forms of social media. Most News organisations as well as the Journalists have their own blogs, Facebook and twitter pages.

4. Social media as a means of disseminating news The Arab spring has demonstrated that social media can be used as an effective means of disseminating news. There have been many instances of social media preceding conventional media in disseminating news. Some of the prominent news stories that broke on social networking sites include Osama Bin Ladens death, the Hudson River plane crash and the U.S. Presidential Campaigns (Reuters, 2011). At present, Facebook and twitter dominate the intersection of social media and news. (Mitchell et al., 2012).But the population that rely on social networking sites for news is still relatively small, and they still make use of the conventional media for getting news. Hence, social networking sites can be viewed as additional pathways to news. According to a survey by Ask Your Target Market, over a quarter of the people surveyed used social media (27.7%) as a source of news, while online news sites (64.5%) were preferred over conventional sources like Television news (59.5%) and newspapers (28.7%).

Fig. 4.1 Where people get their news (%)

Source: Ask Your Target Market

Others Social media Radio news

TV news
Online news sites Other print publications Newspapers 0.00% 10.00% 20.00% 30.00% 40.00% 50.00% 60.00% 70.00%

But there are also downsides of using social media as a news source. The same survey also found out that about 49.4% of the respondents received breaking news from social networking sites that turned out to be untrue. Hence, news corporations often brand social media content as unverified whenever they use it as a source of news unless they are able to independently verify it. Social media enables instant communication and information exchange. But it is important to note that the immediacy of social media does not necessarily guarantee the authenticity of the content. While some people use social media for spreading genuine information, others may use it for rumour-mongering. Hence it is imperative to verify the content before using it as a news source.

5. Social media in contemporary society

Today, social media plays an important role in various aspects of our everyday lives. Social media is being used extensively across several areas like News, Business, Marketing and Politics. There are currently more than 1.5 billion social networking users all over the world, 80% of internet users who use social networks regularly and 70% of companies using social technologies. (McKinsey Global Institute, 2012) The Social web and mobile technologies have accelerated the rate at which information is shared, relationships are developed and influences take hold (BBC, 2012). We have learnt new ways of communicating and collaborating through Facebook feeds, Groups, Profiles and tweets. We use LinkedIn to boost our employment prospects and we share our viewpoints, talents, information and knowledge on video sharing sites like YouTube and micro blogging sites like Tumblr. We use smartphones to access information instantly from any location. Such is the importance of social media today.

6. Conclusions

Social media played an important role in the outcome of the Arab Spring revolution The Immediacy of social media makes it an effective means of disseminating news and information. However, credibility is a major issue when obtaining information from social networking sites. Though the use of social media is growing rapidly, is not a replacement to conventional media, it is merely an extension Social media is a peoples medium of communication. The implications of its usage are dependent on the intentions of the people using it. Social media is being used in various aspects of our everyday lives and holds great influence in modern society.

7. References

Al Jazeera (2012). Taking power through technology in the Arab Spring. Available at: (Accessed 16 November 2012)

Ask Your Target Market (2012). Many Receive Updates from Social Media. Available at: (Accessed 18 November 2012)

BBC (2011). Tunisia one year on: Where the Arab Spring started. Available at: (Accessed 14 November 2012)

BBC (2012). Welcome to the social media revolution. Available at: (Accessed 16 November 2012)

Bowman, S. and Willis, C. (2003). We Media: How audiences are shaping the future of news and information. The Media Center at the American Press Institute [Online]. Available at: (Accessed 17 November 2012)

Channel4 News (2011). Arab revolt: social media and the peoples revolution. Available at: (Accessed 14 November 2012)

Coker, M. and Levinson, C. (2011). Rebels Hijack Gadhafis Phone Network. The Wall Street Journal [Online], 13 April. Available at: ml?mod=fox_australian (Accessed 18 November 2012)

Dubai School of Government (2011). Arab Social Media Report Issue 2 [Online]. Available at: (Accessed 14 November 2012)

Howard, P.N., Duffy, A., Freelon, D., Hussain, M., Mari, W., Mazaid, M. (2011). Opening Closed Regimes: What was the role of Social Media during the Arab Spring? Project on Information Technology and Political Islam [Online]. Available at: (Accessed 17 November 2012)

Khondker, H.H. (2011). Role of the New Media in the Arab Spring. Globalizations 8 (5), pp.675 679. Electronic Journals Service [Online]. Available at: (Accessed 16th November 2012)

McKinsey Global Institute (2012). The Social Economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies [Online]. Available at: al_economy (Accessed 18 November 2012)

Meo, N. (2011). Libya protests: 140 'massacred' as Gaddafi sends in snipers to crush dissent. The Telegraph [Online], 20 February. Available at: ya-protests-140-massacred-as-Gaddafi-sends-in-snipers-to-crush-dissent.html# (Accessed 14 November 2012)

Mitchell, A., Rosenstiel, T. and Christian, L. (2012). What Facebook and Twitter mean for News. The State of the News Media 2012: An Annual Report on American Journalism [Online]. Available at: (Accessed 18 November 2012)

Morozov, E. (2011). Facebook and Twitter are just places revolutionaries go. The Guardian [Online], 7 March. Available at: (Accessed 16 November 2012)

Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (2012). Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2012: Tracking the Future of News [Online]. Available at: cations/Reuters_Institute_Digital_Report.pdf (Accessed 18 November 2012)

Reuters (2010). Factbox: news that broke on twitter. Available at: (Accessed 16 November 2012)

Word Count: 1989 words (excluding title, abstract and references) Total: 2746 words