When virtual reality meets realpolitik: Social media shaping the Arab government–citizen relationship
Type of work: Article (academic)
Categories:e-Democracy | Participation & Uses | Politics and Political Science | Social Media & Social Software
Since most activists participating in the recent uprisings in Arab countries have been using social media to an unprecedented extent, public analyst and researchers have rushed to reflect on and explain the phenomena, often attributing a ‘change agency’ to social media as such. This argumentative research collects evidence from literature, recent surveys and focus groups in order to contextualize our understanding of the role of social media and its usage in reshaping the Arab government–citizen relationship: Are the traits of social media significant enough to single them out and discuss their specific impact on the government–citizen relationship? Are we well advised to attribute an ‘agency’ of social media in shaping politics and inducing political change? And in view of the actual use of social media: What are the options of containing emerging ‘destructive’ phenomena and ‘improving’ the government–citizen relationship? Answers are outlined to support contextualized design of social media technology and regulation: (1) Arab citizens basically support democratic concepts; however (2) social media as such do not act and therefore do not ‘create’ e.g. democracy; rather (3) social media enable a new political sphere for Arab citizens, nevertheless challenged by realpolitik; and (4) social media need care taking in terms of shaping political communication and shaping the media itself in order to serve well as mediator among citizens and between citizens and government.