“I will be traveling my mom, forgive me, Reproach is not helpful, i am lost in my way it is not in my hand, forgive me if disobeyed words of my mom, blame our times and do not blame me, i am going and not coming back, look i did not cry and tears did not fall from my eyes, Reproach is not helpful in time of Treachery in the land of people, i am sick and not in my mind all what happened, i am traveling and i am asking who leads the travel to forget.” (arabcrunch.com)
|Image provided by arabcrunch.com|
The Middle East is changing—Tunisia and Egypt in particular. And it is exciting. The world bore witness to two movements of relatively non-violent resistance and each were successful in ousting leaders who had held power for decades. News media has largely credited the success of these movements to new media: an “internet revolution” or, as Egyptian revolution leader and Google CEO Wael Ghonim would call it, “revolution 2.0.” But others are not so convinced, and this is where I feel rhetoric and composition can play a key role. We know that that invention of new technology is correlated with social change (Manovich 41). Composition studies is looking at the affordances of new media and we are asking questions about what new media can do, who has access, and how we can incorporate new media in the classroom with student agency in mind. I agree with Anne Wyosocki when she says that we need to help our students compose for the future, instead of becoming uncritical consumers of technology (Wysocki 1-23). I feel that in order to really test these ideas, we must look at how they are used in the physical world. Thus I ask the question, what can the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt teach us about the affordances of new media?
First, I wanted to ascertain how social movements are able to organize in general and evaluate how these revolutions could have came to be. For this I turn to communication studies. According to Maheo, Vissers, Stolle and Hooghe, researchers often apply the civic voluntarism model when identifying successful social movements. This model is useful because it categorizes qualitatively measured factors that foster and maintain success for social movements (Maheo 407). This concept was first defined in Klandeermans and Oegama’s article “Potentials, Networks, Motivations, and Barriers” and I will focus on two aspects of this model: mobilization potential and recruitment networks.
|Reservoir in Minnesota from MPRNews.org|
with collective action that will also be effective in enforcing these changes (Klandermans and Oegama 519). Simply put, social movements must be able to identify people within a contentious zeitgeist, and offer real solutions to maintain support.
|1960 Flier from JFK's Campaign|
In rhetoric and composition studies we look at new media in terms of the affordances of different modalities. That is to say that when we use a blog or a wiki, or when we compose with sound or with image or text, we are asking questions about what these different medias and modalities allow students to do (Ed. Selfe). Under the guidance of Dr. Rouzie at Ohio University, my colleagues and I are exploring how we can create a sustainable pedagogy that integrates technology in the composition classes we teach. We do this not only so that we can understand the rhetorical power of multiple modes of composition, but also because this process helps students to better understand written language (Takyoshi and Selfe 7-9), a necessary skill for achieving a voice within the academy. So why am I looking at the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt? And what does this have to do with teaching composition? I think it comes down to the affordances of new media. When we look at affordances, not only are we looking at what new media can do, but we want to collectively and critically engage this power with our students. I hope to show you that new media did play a role in these revolutions, and that composition played a role as well.
|Twitpic shared amongst Tunisian protesters|
|Picture taken from an Egyptian Facebook page|
But they are also fast. New media has tremendous velocity when spreading information. Jim Ridolfo and Dànielle Nicole DeVoss capture this idea in their article “Compositon for Recomposition”: “As a set of practices rhetorical velocity is a term that describes an understanding of how the speed at which information composed to be recomposed travels—that is, it refers to the understanding and rapidity at which information is crafted, delivered, distributed, recomposed, redelivered, redistributed, etc., across physical and virtual networks and spaces” (technorhetoric). To ground this point in an example we can look again to Mahammed Bouzizi. We remember he declared his intentions to die on his Facebook page, an image of his body was taken with a camera phone and both uploaded and disseminated
using Facebook and Twitter sparking public outrage within Tunisia. Within a day, the news organization Al Jeezera publishes this information in cyberspace, thereby drawing attention to his suicide amongst an international audience. With the new media and its affordances of velocity and networking, everyone in the world could know what started the Tunisian revolution in nearly 24-hours.
And this happens over and over in the revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt. The affordances of Facebook and Twitter allow the spread of information at an accelerated rate. These medians were then used by the protesters to coordinate their efforts on the ground. Twitter especially was used to tell people where to meet or where to protest, and this was likely the fastest and cheapest way for people to be informed about the movement. In Tunisia internet access by mobile phone is cheaper than a land line phone, and many younger citizens are able to access the internet through cybercafes which can also bypass many of the countries restrictions on internet access (voanews). By comparison, Egypt has the greatest internet infrastructure in North Africa and has a still growing number of internet subscribers. This kind of environment encourages cell phone use, and Facebook and Twitter are common applications on all mobile phones, making it extremely likely that protesters could use these technologies for the reasons claimed by journalists. For protesters in the field, new media allows the rapid share on information. For example, this video shows a man in Egypt who approaches Egyptian Police officers while unarmed. A fair warning, this video shows a defenseless man being shot to death:
|This is the video as it appears on Facebook|
|A photoblog on MSNBC.com (modified)|
So was new media the catalyst for these revolutions? Some are not so sure. Eugueny Morozov in his article “The Dark Side of Internment” describes how the differences between these revolutions and similar efforts in more authoritarian states, like Iran, is that the governments there were unwilling to use military force against the protests, unlike Iran, who is more willing to use social networking to find political dissidents and engineer their disappearance (though Tunisia and Egypt were accused of the same). Morozov provides us with a strong caution “In the hands of an authoritarian regime, [social networks] can be a tool of oppression” (Morozov 1). In light of this, it is important to note that the military of Tunisia and Egypt were unwilling to use violence against the protesters.
And when it comes to the internet, there is always the question of who has access. The amount of internet users in both Tunisia and Egypt nearly doubled between 2008 and 2009. According the the CIA World Factbook, Egypt ranks 21st in the world in terms of the number of internet users; Tunisia, by contrast, ranks 60th. Though internet access may not be as strong as, say, in the United states, in these countries it is comparatively cheaper and it is safe to say that a great many people in these countries have internet access of some kind. Not unlike our own Generation "M," it tends to be the younger generation who uses the internet. If we know that it is the youth of these nations that are more likely to use the internet, and that they are more likely to use Facebook and Twitter, then it is possible that many of the people coordinating the protests were the younger generations who both had internet access and used it to spread their message of democracy to other like-minded individuals. We cannot say, however, that a majority of the population has internet access. As Cindy Selfe reminds us, technology can create a growing divide amongst people of different ages and socioeconomic stratas (Selfe 1499-1531). However, consider the images the below:
|Graffiti on a wall in Egypt|
|An Egyptian man in Tahrir square|
|Facebook image, unknown author|
|Facebook image from a Tunisian protest page|
In addition to the identity of collective nationality, there is also the martyrdom imagery that is disseminated through social networking. Both Tunisia and Egypt are predominantly Muslim countries where the power of the martyr is a well-documented source of influence, for good or evil depending on whom you ask. But in the case of Tunisia, Mohammed Bouazizi became the image of government oppression. The pain that was afflicted upon him was thus equated to all Tunisians. The same is true for Kahaled Said. His image became the symbol of government violence, murdered by the very police force who would earn international recognition for their acts of violence against protesters through the activism of social networking, news media, and the composition of both, with a captive audience on the ground gaining fuel from the recognition.
One final criticism of the efficacy of social media is whether it is tied to the same forces as conventional media. Natalie Fenton warns at how capitalist market forces influence the spread of information. By Drawing on works by Stuart Hall, J. Habermas and others, Fenton draws attention to how journalism, through conventional outlets such as television, radio and etc., is geared more towards consumer consumption as entertainment rather than informing the public, an attitude that inhibits critical engagement and facilitates dramatization and oversimplification of complex matters--with an emphasis on a vivid polarization that alienates people from political communication (Fenton 230-232). There was certainly plenty of information censorship in both Tunisia and Egypt, both in the digital sphere and on the ground. But in Egypt’s case specifically, capitalist forces actually worked against the internet crackdown. As one communications analyst notes: “The government seems to have put itself in a tough position, as the Egyptian working week begins tomorrow, and with it, incredible disruptions to Egypt's economy and debt rating from the loss of Internet and mobile communications.” Egypt could not maintain its internet silence without damaging its economy and affecting the other economies that surrounded it. And even with Egypt's censorship measures in place, protesters were still able to use Twitter to coordinate their movements by using standard dial-up connections. Similar controls also failed in Tunisia, a country that also has strong censorship measures in place. People were able to create their own private URL in order to bypass Tunisia’s internet server. These realities at the very least cast doubt on the assertion that the internet can be easily controlled, even in times of crisis. We could also ask the question of whether it could be controlled at all.
|Tunisian Facebook Image, Unknown Author|
1.) NPR reported that revolt leaders in Egypt took notes from Gene Sharp’s book 'Clausewitz Of Nonviolent Warfare.” It would be interesting to juxtapose their tactics with the book to see how they compare and whether or not the internet may have helped fulfill the tactics expressed by Sharp.
2.) The credibility of internet usage states in Egypt and Tunisia are hard to verify from here in the states (with perhaps the exception of the CIA report). I relied heavy on corroborating internet news media to ascertain what happened in Tunisia and Egypt.
3.) It would fruitful to know more about each country’s cultural history and political climate. I wonder if the degree of civil disobedience correlates with increased internet access?
4.) Foucault’s concept of Panopticism is definitely at play. Countries like Iran, China, Thailand and Afghanistan have all used internet monitoring to find political dissidents and arrest them, or make them disappear entirely. It should also be noted that the FBI has done the same thing here, “Democracy Now!” did a fabulous report on it.
5.) Some of the most crucial information about the movement was spread by less public means. In Egypt, a manual for engaging the Egyptian police force was distributed through private emails rather than social networking. In contrast, a Tunisian revolt page on Facebook explicitly states precise instructions for people to employ non-violent resistance.
6.) Tunisia created a website called "Tunileaks" which mirrors the format of Jullian Assange's "Wikileaks," the goal of this project is aimed at keeping the Tunisian government transparent.
7.)The utilization of the internet is largely credited as a determining factor in the election of Barack Obama to the presidency. Many Republicans took this lesson to heart after the last election.
8.) Some of the provided hyperlinks take the reader directly to the Facebook pages that contain the cited material, thus a Facebook account is needed to view these. Some of the images here come directly from Facebook pages, but the authors of these compositions are unverifiable since they were contained on multiple sites.
Print Works Cited
Fenton, Natalie. "Mediating hope: New media, politics and resistance." International Journal of Cultural Studies 11.2 (2008): 230-248. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web.12 February. 2011.
Klandermans, Bert, and Dirk Oeoema. "POTENTIALS, NETWORKS, MOTIVATIONS, AND BARRIERS: STEPS TOWARDS PARTICIPATION IN SOCIAL MOVEMENTS." American Sociological Review 52.4 (1987): 519-531.Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 5 February. 2011.
Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001. Print.
Pandey, Iswari. "Saving, Sharing, Citing, and Publishing Multimodal Texts." Ed. Cynthia L. Selfe. Multimodal Composition: Resources for Teachers. (pp. 65-82) Cresskill, NJ: Hampton, 2007. Print.
Selfe, Cynthia; Hawisher, Gail; with Lashore, Oladipupo; and Song, Pengfei. "Literacies and the complexities of the global digital divide." Ed. Susan Miller The Norton book of composition studies (pp. 1499-1531). New York: W.W. Norton & Co. Print. 2006.
Takayoshi, Pamela; Selfe, Cynthia."Thinking about Multimodality." Ed. Cynthia L. Selfe. Multimodal Composition: Resources for Teachers. (pp. 1-12) Cresskill, NJ: Hampton, 2007. Print.
Wysocki, Anne, et al. Writing New Media. (pp. 1-37) Logan, Utah: Utah University Press, 2004. Print.
Valerie-Anne Maheo, et al. "The Potential of Internet Mobilization: An Experimental Study on the Effect of Internet and Face-to-Face Mobilization Efforts." Political Communication 27.4 (2010): 406-431. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 5 February. 2011.