“Movements that are directed against an established governmental authority will often find themselves confronted with an imbalance of power not only in the form of control over traditional media, the police force, the army and other institutions, but also on the Internet, which governments can easily monitor, analyze, manipulate, slow down or turn off altogether.”
The Role of New Media for the Democratization Processes in the Arab World
by Markus Sabadello
The above link was posted four days ago and details the blackouts/ loss of internet in the war torn country. Two days ago much of Syria is back online.
NPR says that experts believe it to be caused by Assad’s regime. This is a prime example of what author Markus Sabadello spoke of in his article. Some of the statistics he used downplayed the role of social media in the uprisings across the Arab world. If the blackout was caused by Assad’s regime, which seems quite likely, than it was an attempt to block the fifth level of media influence: External Attention.
I doubt social media has played much of a role in combat. Organization of protests is one thing, but, from the information I’ve gathered (and since, as the quote above states, social media is just as available to the oppressive forces) combat has been fought in a traditional manner, with boots on the ground and people in the streets. Assad’s attempt, if it is his attempt, to silence the internet has more to do with information leaking outwards into the wider world.
Sabadello points out that Facebook and Twitter had small penetration rates in the population of Egypt during the revolution. As members of the Western world, whose usage and accessibility is much higher in regards to social media, I believe we place a greater value on the role those media play. As shown by Assad’s attempt to blackout the internet, social media is a large source of our information, and is an effective means for revolutionaries and protesters to send their plight, viewpoints, and messages into the larger world. International support can play a key role, and, in our near future, may play a role in who wins this brutal war in Syria. It is the flow of information to our culture that this government wants to cut off. If atrocities are being committed then it is in the regime’s best interest to keep that out of the international news cycle.
The article sites examples during the Libyan rebellion where the government used social media to discover the rebel’s whereabouts and attack accordingly. Obviously, to Assad’s regime, (and if the rebels in Syria are using social networks in a similar manner), the benefits of knowledge ascertained from social media outweighs the negatives, namely the dissemination of knowledge to the international community and the ability of the rebel’s to organize using online communities.
Assad has reason to fear the international community. As citizens all over the world are learning to use social media to society’s benefit, we will see more and more support for victims of oppressive regimes. It will be more difficult for our government to support such regimes, which it has often done for political/ material gain, when the opinions and voices of its people make their opposition heard. It is a step in the right direction, and we must keep it moving that way.