Opening Closed Regimes: What Was the Role of Social Media During the Arab Spring?


Work data:

Type of work: Working Paper


e-Democracy | Participation | Politics and Political Science | Social Media & Social Software


arab spring


After analyzing over 3 million tweets, gigabytes of YouTube content and thousands of blog posts, a new study finds that social media played a central role in shaping political debates in the Arab Spring.  Conversations about revolution often preceded major events on the ground, and social media carried inspiring stories of protest across international borders.

Focused mainly on Tunisia and Egypt, this research included creating a unique database of information collected from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.  The research also included creating maps of important Egyptian political Websites, examining political conversations in the Tunisian blogosphere, analyzing more than 3 million Tweets based on key-words used, and tracking which countries thousands of individuals Tweeted from during the revolutions.  The result is that for the first time we have evidence confirming social media’s critical role in the Arab Spring.

The contributors include Philip Howard, Muzammil Hussain, Will Mari, and Marwa Mazaid at the University of Washington, Deen Freelon at American University, and Aiden Duffy at Amazon Web Services.


Main Findings:

  • First, social media played a central role in shaping political debates in the Arab Spring.
  • Second, a spike in online revolutionary conversations often preceded major events on the ground.
  • Third, social media helped spread democratic ideas across international borders.

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