Revolutions need more than social media

 25 Nov 2013 - 7:47

By Dr Mohamed Kirat
Does the emergence of new media in the Arab world lead to democracy? What are the uses and gratifications of the new media in the Arab world? What implications does new media have on economics, politics and social life of individuals? Daniel Lerner and Wilbur Schramm, argued, back in the late fifties and sixties, through what was later called the old paradigm, that the media lead to urbanisation and to development and economic emancipation. To the big deception of many, development plans failed in the majority of developing countries and urbanisation produced poverty favellas and ghettos. The proliferation of mass media in developing nations and the Arab world has not brought about development. Many speculate that new media — as compared to old media — is not going to do better today nor in the future as development, democracy, political participation and sustainable development require more than Internet, blogs and Facebook. 
New media has created a new communication environment for the public sphere to form, emerge and develop. Many opportunities have developed as the new penetration was flourishing and expanding at a very fast pace. Citizens got multiple means to communicate, share their views, criticise, make suggestions, and most importantly, make their voices heard. Pavlik argues that new communication technology brings about faster flow of information, and that new information technology gives rise to new activities, processes, and products, and lastly social and political change proceeds at an ever more rapid pace, as real time multimedia communications on a global scale become ever more common. 
It is true that new media has contributed to a large extent in the creation of electronic public sphere, many–to- many communication, has even democratised the sharing and dissemination of information. The underground voices, complaints and criticism are read and heard through the new media. The marginalised, the poor and the ‘damned of the earth’ have their own channels on the new media. Internet penetration is just growing on a daily basis. However, the central question is: Is this enough to activate a public sphere that hasn’t existed in real life for ages, or that has been dormant for decades? On the other hand, it is argued that globalisation of media and cultural products through satellite-delivered television and online communications present a homogenised, single global culture, thus endangering public sphere and national identity.
New media has brought about a universal, interconnected network of audio, video, and electronic text communication that will end the distinction between interpersonal and mass communication and between public and private communication. New media is providing an atmosphere of global opportunities worldwide for a globalised public sphere. We are witnessing nowadays “virtual communities” established online, transcending geographical boundaries and getting rid of social restrictions. The dilemma is, where does the developing world stand and fit in such globalisation and globalised public sphere. Academics argue that new media is a manifestation of the post-industrial or globalised society that is there in most developing countries; Arab societies are still in the second wave as stated by Alvin Toffler. What about the digital divide and the 80 million illiterate in the Arab world. Does globalisation provide equal opportunities to all? Is everybody able to construct his own custom-lifestyle and choose his ideology from a large number of options.        
John Naisbitt argues that the information society is more than an intellectual abstraction. New information technology is profoundly altering our social, political, and economic landscape. Virtual communities are among the many results and consequences of online communication. Virtual communities refers to a social collective, or community, that forms in the online, electronic world of computer communication known as cyberspace. In the world of cyberspace, virtual communities exist in an ethereal electronic space defined by digital networks, computers, and the people who use them. The Internet is making electronic public space a reality because it is a tool which is global in its reach and it’s expanding at a very fast pace all over the world, although sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia are lagging.  
New media and social networks have to an extent changed political discourse in the region, posing a threat to the status quo. The new media atmosphere will prevail and develop continuously challenging the political order of privilege, inequality, despotism, bureaucracy, corruption and injustice. However, the media system in the region has to change and engage in a new path to help bring about economic, political and 
social change. 
Many argue that new media and social networks brought the Arab revolutions and Arab Spring and ushered in the changes that several Arab countries are witnessing. However, others argue that this is an overstatement of the power of the new media technology. As a matter of fact, the Arab spring countries — Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen — are going through a chaotic situation where things are getting worse with internal conflicts, riots, protests, and economic decline among others.
Is this new environment suitable for the achievement of democratic, social, economic and political change? What is the other side of social networks? Is everybody in the Arab world involved, sharing and living in the era of social networks? Or is there a good proportion of the population out of this new environment, given that one-fourth of the population in the Arab world is illiterate. Does change — whether social, political or economic — require more than social networks and a new public sphere? How are things after the collapse of dictators and tyrants in Arab countries? Are they getting any better or worse, or should we wait to make an assessment? Historical facts and experience tell us that sustainable development and social change need more than the media. Daniel Lerner predicted in 1958 that the media of mass communication will lead to urbanisation, democratisation and social change in the under-developed countries. After over five decades, the Arab states are still looking for sustainable development and democracy. 
It is a firm conviction of this author that, at their best, new media can mobilise crowds and masses to rally and protests. They can give a social perspective to movements. However, they can’t bring about socio-economic and political change and implement democracy, because such change needs more than social networks. After the collapse of the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, things are not getting any better, and both Tunisia and Egypt are experiencing complex economic, social and political problems. So far, the social networks and the new media have failed to effect a successful democratic transition in the Arab Spring countries.  
Kirat is a professor of Public Relations and Mass Communication at the Department of Mass Communication, Qatar University.
The PeninsulaBy Dr Mohamed Kirat
Does the emergence of new media in the Arab world lead to democracy? What are the uses and gratifications of the new media in the Arab world? What implications does new media have on economics, politics and social life of individuals? Daniel Lerner and Wilbur Schramm, argued, back in the late fifties and sixties, through what was later called the old paradigm, that the media lead to urbanisation and to development and economic emancipation. To the big deception of many, development plans failed in the majority of developing countries and urbanisation produced poverty favellas and ghettos. The proliferation of mass media in developing nations and the Arab world has not brought about development. Many speculate that new media — as compared to old media — is not going to do better today nor in the future as development, democracy, political participation and sustainable development require more than Internet, blogs and Facebook. 
New media has created a new communication environment for the public sphere to form, emerge and develop. Many opportunities have developed as the new penetration was flourishing and expanding at a very fast pace. Citizens got multiple means to communicate, share their views, criticise, make suggestions, and most importantly, make their voices heard. Pavlik argues that new communication technology brings about faster flow of information, and that new information technology gives rise to new activities, processes, and products, and lastly social and political change proceeds at an ever more rapid pace, as real time multimedia communications on a global scale become ever more common. 
It is true that new media has contributed to a large extent in the creation of electronic public sphere, many–to- many communication, has even democratised the sharing and dissemination of information. The underground voices, complaints and criticism are read and heard through the new media. The marginalised, the poor and the ‘damned of the earth’ have their own channels on the new media. Internet penetration is just growing on a daily basis. However, the central question is: Is this enough to activate a public sphere that hasn’t existed in real life for ages, or that has been dormant for decades? On the other hand, it is argued that globalisation of media and cultural products through satellite-delivered television and online communications present a homogenised, single global culture, thus endangering public sphere and national identity.
New media has brought about a universal, interconnected network of audio, video, and electronic text communication that will end the distinction between interpersonal and mass communication and between public and private communication. New media is providing an atmosphere of global opportunities worldwide for a globalised public sphere. We are witnessing nowadays “virtual communities” established online, transcending geographical boundaries and getting rid of social restrictions. The dilemma is, where does the developing world stand and fit in such globalisation and globalised public sphere. Academics argue that new media is a manifestation of the post-industrial or globalised society that is there in most developing countries; Arab societies are still in the second wave as stated by Alvin Toffler. What about the digital divide and the 80 million illiterate in the Arab world. Does globalisation provide equal opportunities to all? Is everybody able to construct his own custom-lifestyle and choose his ideology from a large number of options.        
John Naisbitt argues that the information society is more than an intellectual abstraction. New information technology is profoundly altering our social, political, and economic landscape. Virtual communities are among the many results and consequences of online communication. Virtual communities refers to a social collective, or community, that forms in the online, electronic world of computer communication known as cyberspace. In the world of cyberspace, virtual communities exist in an ethereal electronic space defined by digital networks, computers, and the people who use them. The Internet is making electronic public space a reality because it is a tool which is global in its reach and it’s expanding at a very fast pace all over the world, although sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia are lagging.  
New media and social networks have to an extent changed political discourse in the region, posing a threat to the status quo. The new media atmosphere will prevail and develop continuously challenging the political order of privilege, inequality, despotism, bureaucracy, corruption and injustice. However, the media system in the region has to change and engage in a new path to help bring about economic, political and 
social change. 
Many argue that new media and social networks brought the Arab revolutions and Arab Spring and ushered in the changes that several Arab countries are witnessing. However, others argue that this is an overstatement of the power of the new media technology. As a matter of fact, the Arab spring countries — Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen — are going through a chaotic situation where things are getting worse with internal conflicts, riots, protests, and economic decline among others.
Is this new environment suitable for the achievement of democratic, social, economic and political change? What is the other side of social networks? Is everybody in the Arab world involved, sharing and living in the era of social networks? Or is there a good proportion of the population out of this new environment, given that one-fourth of the population in the Arab world is illiterate. Does change — whether social, political or economic — require more than social networks and a new public sphere? How are things after the collapse of dictators and tyrants in Arab countries? Are they getting any better or worse, or should we wait to make an assessment? Historical facts and experience tell us that sustainable development and social change need more than the media. Daniel Lerner predicted in 1958 that the media of mass communication will lead to urbanisation, democratisation and social change in the under-developed countries. After over five decades, the Arab states are still looking for sustainable development and democracy. 
It is a firm conviction of this author that, at their best, new media can mobilise crowds and masses to rally and protests. They can give a social perspective to movements. However, they can’t bring about socio-economic and political change and implement democracy, because such change needs more than social networks. After the collapse of the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, things are not getting any better, and both Tunisia and Egypt are experiencing complex economic, social and political problems. So far, the social networks and the new media have failed to effect a successful democratic transition in the Arab Spring countries.  
Kirat is a professor of Public Relations and Mass Communication at the Department of Mass Communication, Qatar University.
The Peninsula