Social Media and the Decision to Participate in Political Protest: Observation from Tahrir Square

This article was published in 2012, only one year after the protests began in Tahrir Square. The article contains data and information about the media usage of the people attending the protests. A survey team got on the streets shortly after the protests to ask the participants how they used media during the protests. The protests only lasted for 18 days and during these days, media played a significant role in gathering people and spreading information. Despite a shutdown of the internet service between January 25 and February 2, media still was a main factor in spreading information. Though the survey shows that 48.4% of the attendants got informed about the protest by face-to-face communication, the media, such as Facebook and telephone, were also great sources to gain information about the protests taking place. 28.3% heard about the protests via Facebook and 13.1% via the telephone. These two media services are both interpersonal services, where you mostly talk to friends and family. Therefore, this is an extension of the face-to-face communication, which for the attendants must be the best and most safe way to gain information before and during the protests.
Facebook also serves as a non-political internet service, which is also, why this service can be a safer way to inform and be informed. As in the cute cat theory, non-political Facebook groups is less of a target for the government to shut down and therefore Facebook can be used to spread a political message hidden in a non-political group, page etc.
In this article it is also shown how big a role the media played in Egypt despite that the wide use of Facebook and smartphones have begun in 2009. Introduction of these technologies to the Egyptian society has indeed paved the way for the progress of public sphere – bloggers began writing about political issues and users of social media used these platforms to spread their political messages. The expansion of these new communicative spaces have not only empowered the means of communication in general terms but also empowered the possibilities of political expressions and communications. It has also given rise to the popularity of citizen journalism and journalists – those who broadcast their own photos, videos and news and therefore become an individual unit of news production and distribution.

In the survey it is shown that nearly two third of the attendants were men, but that the female protestors  were more educated and more active on social media and had easier access to the internet (via smartphones etc.) The survey also shows that less women participated in the protest on the first day but joined later on. These factors indicate that it might have been more dangerous for women to attend and that there was a certain felt insecurity about attending. This also amplifies that the protest could become violent and therefore some were afraid to attend.
As a conclusion, the survey shows that the media usage was very much linked to the participation in the protests at Tahrir Square. The availability of Facebook in Arabic in 2009 was a significant factor for the use of social media during the protest. In my opinion, the use of these technologies have really worked for the movement in Egypt. I think that this article really shows how a big role media (including the digital platforms and media technologies) play in the emergence and expansion of a political movement as it played in the process of overthrowing Mubarak which might not have been possible if the media was not employed this effective by the protesters.

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