Study Finds the Internet Is Actually Bad for Revolutions

A new study says turning off the Internet is actually what sparks action

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As Arab governments continue to topple and as citizens of said countries tweet the revolution, it seems logical that social media has at least a little bit in some way aided rebel uprisings. Not so much, says Yale's Navid Hassanpour. "Full connectivity in a social network sometimes can hinder collective action," he wrote in a study reports The New York Times's Noam Cohen. His study found that tweeting and Facebooking can help spread a message, but it can also create confusion, and when it comes to action doesn't do much. And he's not the first to counter the belief that Twitter fueled the Arab Spring.

When Hosni Mubarak shut down the Internet in the middle of the Tahrir square protests, things heated up even more sans access to Twitter, argues Hassanpour. Basically, the disruption got people away from their computers and off of their asses. "It implicated many apolitical citizens unaware of or uninterested in the unrest; it forced more face-to-face communication, i.e., more physical presence in streets; and finally it effectively decentralized the rebellion on the 28th through new hybrid communication tactics, producing a quagmire much harder to control and repress than one massive gathering in Tahrir." This happens because ties made on social media aren't particularly strong adds Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker. "The Internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvellous efficiency. It’s terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism."

But that doesn't necessarily mean social media has nothing to do with these revolutions. The Internet makes information move faster, Todd Wolfson, an assistant professor of journalism and media studies at Rutgers and a community organizer in Philadelphia, told Coen. In these uprisings there was "an accelerant role for social media," but that it "cannot and does not create that kind of mass motion." Sure people learn and discuss through Twitter, but that's all adds Evgeny Morozov author of Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom in The Guardian. "These digital tools are simply, well, tools, and social change continues to involve many painstaking, longer-term efforts to engage with political institutions and reform movements argues."

Yet, without these tools would these revolutions happen at all? No, explains Tunisian revolutionary and blogger, Slim Amamou in an interview with Global Voices.

In 2008, there were uprisings in Redeyef, similar to what happened in Sidibouzid. But back then it seems that the internet community did not reach a critical mass. And then at that time, Facebook got censored for a week or two. I don't remember if it was related. But it was like a training for this revolution. People think that this revolution happened out of nowhere but we, on the Internet have been trying for years, together and all over the Arab world. The last campaign that mobilised people was for Khaled Said in Egypt, and we Tunisians participated. And you have to remember that Egyptians (and people all over the world) participated in the Tunisian revolution: they informed, they participated in Anonymous attacks and they even were the first to demonstrate for Sidibouzid in Cairo.

So, yes Internet was very important.

OK, so not irrelevant, but something special happens when you take that Internet away. "We become more normal when we actually know what is going on--we are more unpredictable when we don’t--on a mass scale that has interesting implications."

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