Facebook Revolution? Social Media as Orientalist Mediation


University of Oxford

This paper sheds light on the complex balance between the internet’s useful and useless roles in the Arab uprisings. I will critically revisit the narratives concerning the role of the internet during the revolutions.  The peculiar fascination with technology that produced the ‘Facebook Revolution’ appear like echoes of older civilisation narratives, such as the notion of Arabs (suddenly) awaking by the availability of (non-native) modern tools. A century ago this was the printing press technology ‘brought’ by the French and the British, now it is social media brought by Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook corporation. Putting social networking at the centre of the debate about the Arab revolutions is illustrative. In due course such projections overlook other, far more important, offline dynamics. Little emphasis is given to (non-Western/anti-Western) issues such as imperialism and neo-liberalism, nor to (offline) political, labour and Islamist social movements by whom the role of the internet was also used. Such selective representations and redefinitions of political organising go in par with the focus on ‘the youth’ as a key factor. Youth are important but in the narrative also signpost ‘non-violent’, ‘horizontal’, ‘post-ideological’ credentials. Well-known public commentators such as Thomas Friedman are exemplary. The end result is a discourse that overestimates the online success of the revolution and underestimates local forces and human agency.