Social media catalysed massive Arab protests

“People who shared interest in democracy built extensive social networks and organised political action. Social media became a critical part of the toolkit for greater freedom,” said Philip Howard, who led the project.

“Our evidence suggests that social media carried a cascade of messages about freedom and democracy across North Africa and the Middle East,” added Howard, associate professor in communication, University of Washington.

During the week before Hosni Mubarak quit as Egypt's president, for example, the total number of tweets from Egypt and around the world - ballooned from 2,300 a day to 230,000 a day, according to a Washington statement.

Videos featuring protest and political commentary went viral - the top 23 videos received nearly 5.5 million views. The amount of content produced online by opposition groups, on Facebook and political blogs, increased dramatically.

“Twitter offers us the clearest evidence of where individuals engaging in democratic conversations were located during the revolutions,” Howard said.

Twitter provides a window into the broader world of digital conversations, many of which probably involved cell phones to send text, pictures or voice messages, he said.
In Tunisia, for example, less than 20 percent of the population uses social media, but almost everyone has access to a mobile phone.

Data for the project came directly from immense digital archives the team built over several months.

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