[Air-L] Arab spring & social media evidence

John Paul Laprise j-laprise at northwestern.edu
Sun Sep 18 06:52:35 PDT 2011

The most compelling finding for me based on discussions with my students and people in the region is not found in the PITPI report. The most compelling and generalizable IMO finding relates to participator behavior, especially when connectivity is turned off. Heavy content participators who consume and produce content, are unwilling to accept state limitations on their ability to participate and in fact choose other means if blocked. When Egypt shut down it's Internet, participators did not simply stop participating. Having developed a participatory inclination through the frequent use of communication technology, they sought to continue their participation when that outlet was limited. In practice, this resulted in unexpected vectoring of information as activists disconnected from technology resorted to more traditional communication methods e.g. knocking on the door of their neighbor. Participatory neighbors activated their less participatory (and likely therefore less informed) neighbors leading to a broader public mobilization outside what might be expected out of technological (and possibly economic) channels.

I'm still struggling with the language as my gut instinct is actually to characterize heavy participators as addicts who suffer withdrawal when the state limits access and who then seek out substitutes.

The reason why I find this so compelling is that I suspect that this is likely true globally, not just in revolutionary situations. For some, online participation is so important that finding themselves with limited access they find a replacement for it. The Arab Spring provides evidence of the powerful societal effects that this behavior can have.

Best regards,

John Laprise
Visiting Assistant Professor in the Communication Program
Northwestern University in Qatar

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