If I recall rightly there were questions raised in our last seminar about the place of social (internet) networking as an actor in its own right as a globalizing force. The comment was made that it was probably better thought of as simply a ‘medium’ for various actors. It is then a globalizing force only in so far as it allows global actors to network. All this was made with particular reference to the ‘Arab Spring’*. I guess this blog is essentially a follow up on that conversation.
It got me thinking about social networking’s place in the Egyptian Revolution where it played a prominent role. The Al-Jazeera Blogs played a pivotal role where the demonstrators at Tahrir Square used them to get strategic advice from anyone who bothered to read these public forums. On a more local level text messaging helped galvanize the local population, quickly giving the uprising (the) mass(es) it needed. What it effectively did was create a space for strategizing and therefore a sense of global activism. This happened to a much lesser extent in the Libyan Revolution where the initial uprising quickly turned into a short, sharp civil war. As far as I can see it, it is playing an almost insignificant role in shaping what is happening in Syria.
However, in addition to simply facilitating the flow of information, the Internet, and technology in general, also facilitated a different sense of space. And I think this concept of ‘space’ has been incredibly influential in the machinations of these uprisings. In a sense, all roads led to Tahrir Square and Benghazi during the respective Egyptian and Libyan uprisings/revolutions. Both were ‘resolved’ in a finite time. I wonder if there is a link. Syria’s uprising looks as though it will become protracted and this might be because it lacks spatial focus; the Free Syrian Army is based in, and operating out of, Turkey and Lebanon. The Syrian National Council’s leaders are based in Europe (and Paris in particular). Added to this are small community uprising in towns and villages not affiliated with, or often even in contact with, either, of the aforementioned groups. Basically there are no mass rallies in Damascus (for example), and much less networking that would provide a sense of cohesiveness.
It’s a completely untested theory of mine (more a hypothesis I guess). But I think a movement focused spatially towards a particularly city/square/region is given an extra dynamic that helps drive it to it’s conclusion.
Perhaps this is where social networking comes back in. It helped the movement in Tahrir Square achieve a global dynamic that gave the movement an epicenter and therefore a critical mass. And it is this one of many things that is lacking in Syria.
From my own personal experience in Syria, and Damascus in particular, the internet is still relatively rare. Syria having just embarked on aggressive modernizing ‘thanks’ to Assad 2.0. Broadband is practically nonexistent, internet cafés are few and far between, and if you want to use Facebook, Twitter, etc. you have to know how to redirect to a proxy server (based in Lebanon) to get access as many of these sites are barred in Syria. The last I heard Syrian authorities were now confiscating smartphones, etc., as they found them, to try and cut down on social networking (and they were only any good when you could get a signal).
Just my synapses firing off an idea…
*I think the term ‘Arab Spring’ is a particularly pernicious noun for such a large phenomena which has encompassed a relatively peaceful revolution in Egypt to that which unfolded in Libya and that which is still unfolding(?) in Syria. ‘Spring’ denotes concepts of renewal and the burgeoning of something necessarily good. Here people are dying. Incidentally the Arab World is calling it for what it is; ‘Al-Thuraat Al-Arabia’ (obviously a transliteration), that is ‘Arab Revolutions’. Much more preferable I think.