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The Arab Spring And Cascading Effect

Social unrests and revolutions have cascaded across the major urban centers of North Africa and the Middle East in 2011. Social media spread both discontent and inspiring stories of success from Tunisia across North Africa and into the Middle East. The protests in Egypt and Tunisia have drawn the largest crowds in 50 years, and now both governments have been overthrown. The rebels in Libya has occupied the capital and seized the control of the entire country. The discontent has spread through networks of family and friends to Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon and Yemen. Authoritarian governments are forced to dismiss their cabinets to placate frustrated citizens and avoid further social unrests.

Usually, journalists are the essential element of such an upheaval. Yet this recent wave of unrest is fundamentally different from other periods of political changes such as the downfall of the Soviet Union. Through digital media like Face book and twitter, the stories of success in Tunisia and Egypt have spread over social networks to many other authoritarian nations. Digital media has not only caused a cascade of civil disobedience to spread among populations living under the most infamous dictators, it has made for unique new means of domestic constructs.

In most authoritarian nations, newspapers and broadcast Medias are controlled by the governments. The dictators can easily censor and hide anything against themselves from the public. By tight regulation and censorship, the essential element for cascading effect is missing: individuals do not know what other people are thinking and doing. However, now thank to Face Book and Twitter, previously disconnected individuals are able to see what their peers are doing in real time. This emancipation of information enables the people in the Middle East to follow their families, classmates, colleagues and compatriots’ actions and lead to a cascade of unrests and demonstrations in Arabic nations.

Eventually, all the information on the social networks broke national boundaries. The stories told by average Tunisians spread across North Africa. The protestors in Tunisia and Egypt used social media to link up. The stories about their shared grievances and sense of desperation became the mainstream on the networks. The cascade effect, however, wasn’t simply that shared grievances spread from Tunis to Cairo. Instead, it was the inspiring story of success — overthrowing Ben Ali — that spread over networks of family and friends that stretch from Morocco to Iran.

One interesting fact about the Arab Spring is that the content that seems to have the biggest cascading effect over digital media is personal, not ideological. Personal issues that relate people close to a day to day basis seem to be more influential and appealing than ideological causes. Clearly, people valued other people’s personal stories and photos more than politicians’ empty talks. The moving stories and shared grievances are the high signals for the demands of change and liberty.

So, beware, dictators, you might just be another ‘victim’ of the cascading effect.

by WW254


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November 2011