The Arab Spring and the 'social media revolution'

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Nokia Communicator, 1996

The recent series of events that we now know as the Arab Spring have been portrayed in the media as a peaceful social media revolution.

Starting in December 2010 in Tunisia, and moving through Egypt and countries like Libya, Yemen, and Syria, all the way to Bahrain, the "youth" attempted to overthrow their authoritarian regimes. Smart mobile phones and social media like Facebook and Twitter played an important part in co-ordinating action and getting news out to concerned parties in other cities and across borders. Many news reports have portrayed the social media as forcing leaders in the Arab world to step down.

Communication technologies have always played an important role in conflict situations. They are used or influenced not only by revolutionaries, but also by ruling regimes. At the start of the Arab Spring, many of the targeted regimes had no experience with social media opposition. Their overthrow was not a result of incompetence, but a lack of knowledge about the new media and technologies like laptops and cell phones. Those who control a country's communication infrastructure can easily block certain sites – or even the internet entirely – or simply use the internet and mobile phone message to track dissenters, follow plans, and gather evidence. Other Arab regimes immediately took measures to control the social media further.

Yet communication technologies at all times open up ways to "spread the word," as Radio Free Libya showed by operating at the fringes of Libyan territory.

How to cite this page


Suzanne Lommers, 'The Arab Spring and the 'social media revolution'', Inventing Europe,


  1. Al Jazeera. “Fighting Back in Libya’s Media War”, March 2, 2011.
  2. Al Jazeera. “Libya: A Media Black Hole”, February 26, 2011.
  3. BBC News. “New Media Emerge in ‘Liberated’ Libya”, February 25, 2011.
  4. NOS, “Dossier about the Arab Spring”,

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Media conflicts: the complicated relationship between 'media' and 'revolutions'

Over the years, technological innovations have created new opportunities in conflict situations. Control of the media means not only the power to have your message heard, but also to drown out or disrupt the messages of your adversaries. Innovations like satellite communications, the internet (which enabled anonymous posting of information), and recently the social media (which allows the free sharing of information between large groups of people) have changed the ways in which resistance and conflict have been organized.

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The Nokia Communicator

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