Online Networks and Social Change

Social Networking and its Influence on Arab Spring to Create Social Change


Social networking did not cause the revolution but the affordances of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube most certainly facilitated the uprisings of Arab Spring, leading to moderate concessions such as the removal of unpopular leaders. Arab Spring was a connection of uprisings across Arab nations due to poor living standards, the movements were able to gain awareness and support via the use of social networking sites which broadcasted the protests. Clicktivism and hashtag activism played very significant roles in the dissemination of information, it allowed Arab citizens to recognise their beliefs were shared commonly with neighbouring citizens, enabling the people to unite over a common cause. It also allowed for the protests to be shared globally and the creation of the trending hashtag #Arabspring, which in turn increased the awareness surrounding the movement, allowing people to support the cause globally. The use of clicktivism and hashtag activism shaped the networked self of individuals as ones who cared about the movement and impacted the networked individualism of those who took part, as individuals widely dispersed networks were utilised in the sharing of information to create awareness of the Arab Spring movement. 

The introduction of online networks has radically changed the way we live, connect and disseminate information. Social networks not only play a significant role in how we connect with people around the world but it also has the power to influence users perspectives and to facilitate change. The Arab Spring movement demonstrated that users can facilitate social change through online networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube through uploading user-generated content, online clicktivism, and hashtag activism. Social networking is used by political activists due to how easily information can be created and spread with the possibility to reach global audiences. Information disseminated on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube has the potential to gain momentum via the use of sharing, liking, uploading, and hashtags which in turn creates trends; causing awareness; creating action, and facilitating change. 

The Arab Spring was a movement that originated in response to oppressive regimes and low standards of living. It consisted of anti-government protests, armed rebellions and an uprising deriving from Tunisia before taking part across numerous Arab nations in the early 2010’s (History, 2020). The movement quickly spread across nations and left security forces overwhelmed by the commitment and severity of protesters. The movement resulted in a range of concessions from the removal of unpopular officials to constitutional changes in order to calm protest movements (Holtschke, 2013). The way Arab Spring was able to spread from nation to nation with such force and unity whilst causing change was due to the power of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. These sites were key in enabling the dissemination of information, in doing so, reinforcing citizen’s latent attitudes and activating them (Holtschke, 2013). It allowed people to recognise that other Arab residents shared similar views and opinions in relation to their distress of poor living conditions and the oppressive regimes they lived under (Freelon, Marwick and Kreiss, 2020). Videos of the uprisings in Tunisia were shared on Facebook and YouTube allowing people globally, to view the movement which was unfolding along with the underlying opinions and motivations that caused it. These social networks acted as a third place in which people from neighbouring nations who were living under similar conditions could come and realise they weren’t alone in their dissatisfaction with authorities (Germain & Thomas, 2001). Protestors used Facebook to organise anti-government demonstrations to voice their dissatisfaction with Arab leaders (Germain & Thomas, 2001). This correlates with Hampton and Wellman’s (2018) findings that social networks help people connect and support community, creating what Delanty (2018) sees as a “sense of belonging” through the communication of online communities, in this sense the sharing of the uprisings and common views shared via social networks. Citizens weren’t the only group facilitating social movement via social networking sites, the news broadcaster Al Jazeera collected information disseminated on the internet by the people, who used them as a source, and created Facebook groups, retransmitting free news onto mobile phones (Khonder, 2011). The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions have been labelled the Facebook and Twitter revolutions due to the prevalent role these social networking sites played in facilitating the movements as they were used to organise and publicise social protests (Khonder, 2011). Social networking was so key to the successes of the revolution that an Egyptian activist posted on Twitter ‘we use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate and YouTube to tell the world’ (Global Voice Advocacy, 2010).

YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have made it possible for public opinion to encompass many individuals and widespread geographic areas, as social networks have allowed for new pathways to open up and new target audiences to be reached (Holtschke, 2013). Before social networks, protestors relied on capturing the eye of the mainstream media through the use of street protests to receive coverage. Activists now can take to social networking sites and upload content such as videos of the Arab Spring uprisings to gain independent media attention, which in turn attracts journalist’s attention. This gives protesters an advantage; as news outlets can reach individuals outside of the social networking sites used, as well as people who are not digitally active at all (Holtschke, 2013). This supports Hampton and Wellman’s (2018) discussion that virtual community has the power to construct a political world that offers limitless possibilities for creating and imagining community. Social networks allow for the political ideology of minorities to be shared with communities created amongst the Arab Spring protestors for their opinions to be voiced. 

Social networking has the ability to greatly impact political activism, sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube give users the ability to take part in an easy yet effective way to promote political causes and broadcast alternate narratives, that such as the peoples, via clicktivism. Clicktivism can be defined as using social media to promote a cause through low-cost symbolic actions such as sharing, liking and posting activist content on social media (Graham, 2018). Graham (2018) believes online actions help boost activist topics and concerns, making them more visible to the public hence enabling change. In terms of Arab Spring, this idea is very relevant as the uploading of protests in Tunisia were viewed, liked and shared on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter by people who faced similar circumstances as well as users across the world who seek to increase the discoverability of this media and in turn awareness surrounding the situation. An increase in awareness due to clicktivism led to changes in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain where their rulers were either ousted or major uprisings, riots, civil wars and insurgencies occurred (History, 2020). Graham (2018) also found that the sharing of information about politics on social networks predicted offline political activism, including; attending political meetings; contacting public officials and donating money to political campaigns. Zuniga et al (2017) support Graham’s findings as his research similarly discovered that using social media for political purposes led to political and civic engagement offline. Zuniga et al (2017) coined the term for using social media to address community problems “social media social capital”. In relation to Arab Spring, we can see social media social capital facilitating movements, with Graham’s (2018) and Zuniga et al (2017) findings correlating with the activities that took place. Users in surrounding Arab countries that took part in the subsequent uprisings partly became aware of the protests in Tunisia through uploaded footage to Facebook and YouTube, which was shared between users of the Arab countries to create awareness for the cause (Khonder, 2011).

Clicktivism isn’t the only way political activism can be impacted via social networks, hashtag activism plays a very significant part in creating awareness around an issue and allowing it to be engrossed by the mainstream media and public. Hashtag activism is the creation of a declarative hashtag to serve as the unifying slogan, for a matter which signifies the demands and priorities of a cause, in this case #Arabspring became the trending hashtag (Rorke, Mendez & Ceja, 2019). Hashtags usually come to the public’s attention via news coverage of shocking and disruptive events, #Arabspring fell under this category as the hashtag gained momentum causing it to trend (Rorke, Mendez & Ceja, 2019). Rorke, Mendez & Ceja, (2019) believe hashtags such as #Arabspring became popular due to the public relating to the hashtags core message or wanting to show their support to the cause at hand, this is what causes the hashtag to trend on social networking sites. Hashtag activism relates to Papacharissi’s (2010) theory of a networked self; how an individual presents themselves online via their virtual actions, by hashtagging #Arabsprings on social networks, people are forming their networked self as one who cares and wants to spread awareness of the Arab spring movement. Papacharissi’s (2010) networked self, ties in with Wellman’s (2018) idea of networked individualism, in what can be described as a shift from closely bound social groups to widely dispersed complex networks of relationship surrounding an individual. Interpretating Wellman’s (2018) theory of network individualism, users seek a connection with others to share stories, this can be seen as significant in relation to facilitating movements in connection with Arab springs. Hashtag activism allows users to use their widely dispersed networked ties with other users as a way to promote the political situation of Arab springs and create awareness of the situation as well as to show they care about the current political climate.  

Hashtag activism also proves successful as it can be exposed to attention and support from elite third parties, such as mainstream news corporations who are often responsible for the publicity activist hashtags receive (Rorke, Mendez & Ceja, 2019). Businesses, celebrities and politicians also have the power and influence to attract people’s attention to movements. In relation to Arab Spring, USA groups such as the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House (a non-profit human rights organisation), each played a role in training key leaders of the Arab Spring movements in campaigning, monitoring elections and organising using new media tools (Nixon, 2011). These organisations didn’t fund the movement to start protests but instead “helped support their development of skills and networking”, which lead to playing a key role in the uprisings (Nixon, 2011). These US groups taught the protestors how to optimise their networking and media skills, such as clicktivism, in order to broadcast their beliefs and actions which proved to be very significant in facilitating the Arab Springs movement. The more people who were exposed to the uprisings beliefs, the more that joined and fought for the recognised cause, whether it was through direct action, such as taking part in protests or indirect, through clicktivism and hashtag activism across the world; sharing the uprising on social media.  

Online networking didn’t start the revolution but it did to a great extent facilitate it, it played a significant role in creating awareness and uniting the common beliefs of the Arab people. Without Facebook, Twitter and YouTube the Arab spring movement may not have been possible. These social networking sites acted as a successful third place, allowing the Arab community to recognise how they shared common beliefs towards the harsh conditions they lived under, giving them a platform to voice their dissatisfaction. The discontent was broadcasted globally due to the affordance of uploading user-generated footage of the uprisings in Tunisia, to Facebook and YouTube. Clicktivism allowed the footage to gain attention as it was liked and shared globally. Whilst Twitter amongst the other sites allowed for hashtag activism to cause global awareness surrounding the Arab Spring movement which in turn caused it to trend and become a global issue, with people around the world wanting to help for the good of the cause or to shape their networked self as one who cares or simply both. Networked individualism played a key role in facilitating the movement as people connected, spreading awareness of the cause via social networking sites. Ultimately the use of social networking sites largely facilitated the Arab Spring movement in a unique way as demonstrated through the concessions of the movement, such as the removal of leaders, due to the broadcasting of information and organisation of the people through social networking which made the uprisings possible. 


Delanty, G. (2018). Community (3rd ed.). Routledge.

Freelon, D., Marwick, A., Kreiss, D. (2020). False equivalences: Online activism from left to right. Science (American Association forn the Advancement of Science)369(6508), 1197-1201.

Germian, St., Michael, T. (2001). Sociability and the Coffee Shack: Testing Oldenburg’s concept of the third place. [Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University]. ProQuest.

Global Voice Advocacy (2010). Arab World : Technology in the Time of Revolution. 

Graham, M. (1965). The Routledge companion to media and activism (1st ed.). Routledge. -garahm ,2018

Hampton, K., Wellman, B. (2018). Lost and Saved…Again: The Moral Panic about the Loss of Community Takes Hold of Social Media. Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews, 47(6), 643-651.

History (2020). Arab Spring. History.

Holtschke, E. (2013). The Role of Media during the Arab Spring with particular Focus on Libya.

Khondker, H. (2011). Role of the New Media in the Arab Spring. Globalisations 8(5), 675-679.

Nixon, R. (2011, April 14). U.S. Groups Helped Nurture Arab Uprisings. The New York Times.

Papacharissi, A. (2013). A Private Sphere: Democracy in a Digital Age 63(2), 1-5.

Rorke, T., Mendez, D., Ceja, L. (2019). #Arabspring. #Moveme A Guide to Social Movements & Social Media.

Zuniga, H., Barnidge, M., Scherman, A. Social Media Social Capital, Offline Social Capital, and citizenship: Exploring Asymetrical Social Capital Effects, 34(1), 44-68.

6 thoughts on “Social Networking and its Influence on Arab Spring to Create Social Change

  1. G’day Joseph,

    That is a very powerful, well researched and well written conference paper that I thoroughly enjoyed reading and agree with you whole heartedly. I agree that the Arab Spring would never have been as successful as it was without social media. I believe there would have been even greater bloodshed with many more lives lost if not for social media and the worldwide exposure the Arab Spring protests received. As the heading of your paper states this is a prime example of social media and social networking being used in a positive manner to create social change (but I doubt the deposed dictators would agree). Examples such as this one are proof positive that social media platforms can be used to affect change and spread global awareness of extremely important issues that affect us all.
    On a side note I also noticed that there are certain words and phrases that the extensive use of social media has developed and have now become a regular part of the language. A few short years ago who would ever have heard of clicktivism or hashtag activism but now they have become part of the vernacular.
    Thank you Joseph for an inspiring and uplifting paper on the benefits and positive outcomes social media can be used for to achieve.


    1. Hey Bernie, thanks for such a positive response on my article, I felt like I conveyed the powers of social media well in this instance and you have kindly confirmed that for me. It is very strange how our vocabulary changes and adapts to the times around us, I’m the same as you I had never heard of these terms until this year!

  2. Hi Joseph,
    Great paper! You’ve managed to portray the relationship between social media and its ability to influence social movements in order to create social change very well.
    The Arab Spring was a significant movement in terms of using social networking to eradicate the revolution going on and to raise awareness of the events going on. I completely agree that hashtag activism is a significant and effective tool when trying to influence social change. When I think of the relationship social media has on establishing social change, Arab Spring comes to mind as it has paved the way for other movements such as the BLM and #Metoo.
    I’ve written a paper on Twitter’s relationship and influence on the #Metoo movement and I’d love to hear your feedback 🙂

    1. Hey Saranya, thanks for your feedback I’m glad you can relate to my paper and understand the importance of online activism! However I don’t believe Arab Spring used social media to eradicate the revolution but more to facilitate it, I think you might of got mixed up in that sense, nonetheless thank you for your feedback and I’ll be sure to have a look at your paper, it’d be my pleasure

  3. Hi Joseph,

    Your topic is indeed very interesting and your paper really reflects the impact of social networks on the revolutionary movement in North Africa and the Middle East.

    Yes, I definitely agree! without the social network revolution many people wouldn’t have a voice to express themselves.
    You perfectly have demonstrated how clicktivism and hashtag activism is indeed an effective and powerful tool that has proven the power of the people against a corrupt government.
    I learned a lot from your paper! Again, great work!


    1. Hey Marwah thanks for your kind reply, I’m glad I was able to successfully convey the significance of social networking as it impacts social change through the use of online activism. If you have any questions or further thoughts let me know and I’d be happy to talk through them with you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *